Madison, Wis. — Older populations are more at risk for the medical and psychological consequences associated with COVID-19, according to UW Health geriatricians.
While telehealth and video visit options are available, older patients are still more likely to miss important care or screenings during the pandemic. Additionally, those with dementia and cognitive impairment may struggle to understand physical distancing and masking requirements, often creating new challenges for their caregivers.
Another major concern for geriatricians is that some older people in assisted living facilities or skilled nursing facilities have not seen visitors in person for months, further adding to their feeling of social isolation. Compounding those consequences is the fact that many older people have also had deaths of spouses, family, or friends during COVID-19 and are experiencing amplified feelings of grief and loss, especially with the inability to have traditional funerals during this time.
“I can't emphasize enough the need to combat this isolation in our older patients,” said Dr. Alexis Eastman, UW health geriatrician. “The isolation created by this pandemic is significant, and we will likely never know the full extent of its damage to the physical and psychological health of older people, but it should not be underestimated.”
One of the single best things we can give our older loved ones right now is our time. Geriatricians offer these additional suggestions to support older loved ones:
Offer to pick up groceries, medications, take-out.
Bring them flowers, cards, hobby supplies, puzzles, books, etc.
Call and send them photos, emails, letters or videos.
Help facilitate video visits between older relatives and their friends or family. This is also often possible for older relatives living in long-term care facilities. Ask staff or care providers how to schedule a video visit.
Coordinate with groups that provide additional social interaction. Organizations like SAIL (Sharing Active Independent Lives) have active outreach programs for older persons. Newbridge and the Madison Senior Center have excellent websites with additional resources. The city of Madison is running a "Pandemic Penpals" program to connect isolated older people to each other.
Encourage exercise by finding online senior exercise classes for them.
Meals on Wheels is still operating. If you have an older loved one at risk of food shortage, consider this service.
UW Health offers multiple telehealth options using video or phone and will always work with you to make sure your loved ones get the medical attention they need.
Medical students have developed a volunteer program called SeniorChats, where isolated older people in facilities are partnered with a medical student "buddy" for calls and conversation.
Have safe small gatherings outdoors while maintaining physical distancing and wearing masks.
Start an outreach group in your community, church, book club, running group, etc. Many local facilities would be happy to partner on calls or errands for isolated older adults.
For older people feeling isolated:
Get outside to get fresh air and exercise every day.
Join an online book club through UW libraries.
Call older relatives and friends often. Everyone needs support during this time more than ever.