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The Elderly and Vulnerable in midst of COVID-19: Coping with Self-Isolation

Updated: May 26, 2020

The new coronavirus pandemic is affecting us all, not just in the United States but worldwide. When it comes to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, older people are especially vulnerable to severe illness. Research proves that adults 60 and older, particularly those with preexisting medical conditions, specifically heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or cancer are more likely to have severe, even deadly, coronavirus infection than other age groups. It is a strange and unusual situation for everyone and it is understandable that we might feel anxious when things are so uncertain.

The government’s guidelines for everyone especially ones over 60’s to “self-isolate” up to August now, from recent reports and speculations, is particularly challenging. While self-isolation reduces the risk of coronavirus, it also raises a number of other health and wellbeing challenges for seniors. It is a new reality seniors are still adjusting to. Here at IHCA, we are well-practiced at supporting the elderly and vulnerable to help them maintain a sense of well-being both physically and mentally. We have therefore developed some tips to complement the government guidelines and help to get you and your loved ones through the coming weeks.

Keep Yourself Well

First and most important, you should take all the precautions you can to avoid becoming infected yourself. Here are the basics:

· Frequently clean your hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Especially before and after providing care, preparing food, using the bathroom, or touching surfaces in public spaces.

· Clean frequently touched surfaces in your home often, including mobility and medical equipment used by you or your loved one, such as walkers, canes, and handrails.

· Keep your hands away from your face. Avoid touching the eyes, mouth or nose with unclean hands.

· When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose into the bend of your elbow or disposable tissue – throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands thoroughly.

· If you have a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider.

· Avoid crowds especially close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough.

· Observe physical distancing (at least 3 feet apart) outdoors.

· When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of a novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with animals and surfaces in contact with animals.

· The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

· Stock up on necessary supplies and stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.

Audit the Safety of Your Home

To reduce the risk of injury, many seniors will wait until a family member drops by for help with tasks like getting a heavy item off a high shelf. But with visits limited, we have been hearing from both seniors and their families that they are worried about accidents happening.

So to ensure you or a senior you know can go about their day safely at home, do a safety audit to check for things such as:

·Loose railings

·Unsteady furniture

·Trip hazards like rugs

·Grab rails in the bathroom

Craft Your Own Mental Well-Being ‘First Aid’ Kit

We can prevent and reverse loneliness with the power of our mind. Think of self-isolation as an opportunity. Most people have a practical first aid kit of some sort at home, even if it is just a few bandages and plasters. So why not create a mental well-being first aid kit too? Make a list of, and/or collect together the things that you enjoy doing – or used to enjoy doing and would probably like to enjoy again. Maybe there are a few pastimes that you love but that have lapsed over the years for one reason or another. Are there books on the shelf that you have always meant to read but have never got around to? What about the thousand piece jigsaw puzzle that still hasn’t made out of its box and seal? What about the currently unfilled book of crossword puzzles that you got for Christmas? Can you dig out those special DVDs from your collection – the ones that you would love to watch again; and so on. Add these things to your mental well-being first aid kit.

Create a Regular Routine

Mental health experts recommend routines to give each day a sense of purpose. While your routine will be different during self-isolation, try to think of way you can add structure to your day.

Your routine can include simple things like getting dressed every morning and doing your hair, as well as checking in with family at a certain time, chores around the home, reading, working on a hobby project and daily exercise. Such things not only keeps you physically active but also helps your mental well-being having some things achieved one at a time.

Make a Weekly Plan

When you are out of your normal routine and one that previously involved the outside world, it is not difficult for one to feel that the days have merged into one and to forget what day it is.

Time tends to go more slowly in such a situation and it is easy to let the usual disciplines lapse, such as healthy eating at regular meal-times and observing good bedtime routines at the usual hour. Healthy eating, exercise and a good night’s sleep are all important for maintaining our immune system and avoiding low mood.

Make a weekly plan: think about the things you need to do regularly - for example, having a proper breakfast, setting time aside for reading, getting a bit of exercise, setting aside time for household chores, speaking to friends or family etc. You can also add in some of the things from your mental first aid kit.

A Few Examples of Things That I Want to do and Things That are Important to Me:

Monday: AM – Washing and Cleaning | PM - Read a novel

Tuesday: AM – Home Exercises Instead of a Walk | PM - Phone Family

Wednesday: AM – Clean/Sweep/Vacuum Floors | PM - Try New Dish

Thursday: AM - Home Exercises | PM - Phone Family

Friday: AM - Organizing the House | PM - Read Some Poetry

Saturday: AM – Do some gardening | PM - Drawing/Painting.

Sunday: AM - Enjoy a Play/Radio Program or Church on the TV/Online | PM - Watch a Favorite Film

In anxious times it is easy to feel overwhelmed by things. Breaking things down into days and step-by-step tasks can guard against such a feeling. By being focused and keeping oneself busy carrying out the plan as far as is possible, you may also be surprised to find how quickly another week comes around.

Maintain Daily Exercise

Being in self-isolation means you may not be able to do your regular fitness activities, such as going out for walks or attending a group exercise class.

But staying strong is significant for overall wellbeing, brain health, and living independently. So keep fit by trying home-based physical activities, such as gardening and indoor exercise.

Sunshine and Fresh Air

​Sunshine and fresh air is also important for keeping our spirits up and boosting our resilience. As the weather looks set to get warmer, it will certainly be great to get out in the garden or yard if you have one. If not, try reading a book or doing another enjoyable pastime next to an open, sunshine-filled window?

Balance your Viewing or Listening (TV / Radio)

The television and radio can be wonderful companions, but they can also be burdens if we listen to too much news. It won’t help to cut oneself off from what’s happening in the world completely as the fear of the unknown can often be greater, but make sure you balance this by limiting when or how much news you watch or listen to. Keep watching or listening to those ‘feel good’ and light-hearted programs. Maybe you could get out one of those old favorite DVDs to watch instead. Alternatively, just turn off the TV / Radio for a while and get something else out of your mental well-being first aid kit.

Try Meaningful Activities

Keeping your mind stimulated is an important way to manage your mental health during self-isolation.

By having activities to do, you'll be less tempted to switch on the TV, which could result in you watching more news than necessary. Activities you could try include:

·Organizing photos

·Start writing a memoir or some fiction

·Try a new hobby such as painting, dancing, or learning a language

·Start writing to a Pen Pal

·Do a daily puzzle like a crossword or Sudoku

·Make a picture book for your grandkids

·Sew face masks for yourself or to donate to the community

If you are keen to start a new hobby but are unable to go out for the necessary supplies, kindly ask your family, Caregiver or neighbors to pick them up for you.

Daily Diary

Some people find it helps to write a daily diary. It is often therapeutic to get thoughts out of your head and onto paper, particularly before bedtime – thereby aiding a good night’s sleep. You can also give yourself a written ‘pat on the back’ for achieving the things from your weekly plan!

Stay Connected with Family and Friends

Practice social and physical distancing but not social isolation. Connecting with people we trust is particularly important for our mental and emotional well-being. Keep in touch by phone. These can be regular, scheduled calls or ad-hoc calls when we need a bit of extra support or reassurance. At IHCA, we are carrying out 2m distance, scheduled door-step visits to check if groceries are needed and so forth so that our clients can benefit from the face to face conversations too.

Think Positive

There are ways that we can deal with our anxious thoughts to avoid them escalating. For example, looking and focusing at the positive rather than the negative and thinking of ‘coping’ thoughts instead.

“This situation is worrying, but it is only temporary; it won’t last forever”

“I’ve been through other difficult situations and experiences in my life and got through it”

“It’s perfectly normal to feel sad, anxious or afraid sometimes”

“I am not in danger right now, whilst I stay at home”

“There’s no point worrying about something I don’t have any control over. Worrying won’t change it”

Of course, it is always useful to talk about your worries and share any concerns with friends, family, or others that you can trust too.


The COVID-19 outbreak is a global health challenge that requires preventative actions and diligence among all concerns. Maintaining physical and mental health with the right information, proper hygiene and daily routine, and safe practices are still the best way to combat the disease.

Though there is a need for great concerns at this time, panic and total isolation is not an advisable answer to this outbreak. It is important to take physical and mental precautionary approach while this uncertainty persists. It is also important not to overreact and for measures to be logically sound. Stay safe and keep on praying everyone!

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