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How to care for elderly during COVID-19 situation

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

Everyone is stressed and overwhelmed right now, understandably so, but please take a moment to think about any elderly around you that might need your help during this time. I'll be sharing some ideas in the next few days to help people realize the importance of caring for this vulnerable age group during COVID-19 crisis.


First and for most, stay in touch with them. This is an obvious one but crucial. While social distancing has been shown to slow down the spread of the virus, we have to remember that social distancing doesn't mean social isolation. For a lot of elderly individuals, distancing from their grandchildren and children is going to be really isolating and lonely. They might live alone and if children and grandchildren are not allowed to visit them and get close to them, that might mean not seeing and talking to anybody for days! While this is a temporary situation, the long-term impact of social isolation will be huge, at least on their mental health if not on their physical and brain health. So, keep your distance but check in with them regularly. Send them messages and see if they are doing ok. Get them socially active and involved. If you have elderly parents, call them frequently and let them talk to their grandchildren. Talk to them about something fun and positive rather than the Corona news!

Cognitive engagement. Many of the elderly used to attend various groups and classes to keep their mind active and socialize. Now that social gathering is canceled, the isolation is not only impacting their social life but also their cognitive functions.

This applies to everyone and not only the elderly. But if you or anyone you know are experiencing social isolation and feel not cognitively engaged through the day, perhaps now it is a time to pick up a new challenge. Have you ever wanted to learn a language or learn about a topic in science? There are so many resources for learning various activities. If you can't find it, ask your friends, children or neighbors, over the phone or via email, to recommend a book or lend you some resources they used for learning Spanish. Now the libraries are closed, it would be tricky to access materials the way you used to, but use your social contacts to stay in touch with them and learn something new. After adjusting to the new lifestyle, think about the ways in finding some resources, that's a new challenge as well! Turn on the TV and watch a documentary or listen to a TED talk. Learning a new skill engages different neural pathways and helps you to stay cognitively engaged.

Physical activity. Again while social distancing dictates to stay home as much as possible and not to attend exercise classes or gyms, most elderly need their regular exercises to stay mobile. If they lose the momentum of attending regular classes or practicing their routines, their muscle tones and physical readiness will decline which will have long-term consequences for their health. So, if you are self-isolating, try to get online classes and regular exercises suited for your needs. See if you can find exercise physiologists or personal trainers who offer online consultations. If you already have a routine, try to stick to it as much as possible. If they don't have a routine, try to start with low intensity and stretches during the day. There are some applications for exercise at home too. If none of these options are available, just walk around your backyard or block! Don't need to stop and chat with anyone while you are out. But move your body daily during this time. Avoid sitting in front of a computer/TV for a long period of time. Any movement counts! Wash your dishes, do some gardening, clean your closet/desk, move your body while you are cooking, etc. Any movement is better than sedentary positions.


Diet. When in self-isolation, it is very important to take care of your mental health as well. Research has shown a strong link between gut and brain health. So, the way we eat impacts the way we feel. Be very vigilant about your food! During stressful times like this, it is important to choose healthier snacks and food options. Reduce foods with refined sugar as much as possible. Try to replace sugar and simple carbohydrate with healthier substitutes and complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain foods, fruits, and veggies. Bake yourself a healthy banana bread or carrot cake to satisfy the craving but stick to food and veggies as much as possible. I understand that eating fresh produces would be tricky and require several travels to shops, so try to buy frozen fruits and veggies and store them in your freezer. Consider immune-boosting foods such as oily fish, leafy greens and ginger. Try to stay hydrated and follow general healthy eating habits.


Practice hand and mental hygiene. These days it is important to stay informed about the recommendations by the health care professionals and authorities. But unfortunately, there is a lot that we can't control in this situation, except staying home and practicing hand hygiene. You don't need to fill your days at home by reading and listening to the news all the time. Turn on the music channel and listen to your favorite music genre. Listen to tracks that bring joy and wonderful memories back. Listen to a scientific talk about dolphins, they are amazing creatures! Don't let every single conversation be governed by the epidemic topic.

Remember, most people in your generation ( the elderly population I'm referring to) have experienced difficult periods in their lifetimes. You may have experienced war, poverty, drought, financial hardships, losing jobs and partners. You've got through them and now you've got this one too! It is important to watch for negative and worrying thoughts that creep in during this time. With a positive outlook and right social distancing strategy, we can get through this. You are not alone on this!

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