With news that over 70s will soon be asked to stay at home for up to four months to lower their risk of catching Coronavirus, we've rounded up some simple actions we should all be taking to help older people deal with the pandemic.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock has this week announced that everybody in the UK aged 70 or above will be asked to isolate themselves in the near future. Those over 70 and with pre-existing health conditions are most at risk of catching Covid-19, but they're also most likely to be affected by being isolated from friends and family.
Here are eight simple things you could be doing right now to help protect over 70s from Coronavirus:
1. Stay away if you're ill... but don't if you're not
If you or anybody in your family has had any symptoms at all, or has been exposed to somebody who has, then you need to self isolate for 14 days, which means you can't visit friends or family. However, if you're fit and well and haven't come into contact with anybody who is now self isolating because of exposure to coronavirus, then continue to visit older friends, relatives and loved ones.
The social interaction will do wonders for their mental health, you just need to ensure you wash your hands as soon as you arrive and avoid hugging or kissing. If older people are concerned about meeting up, suggest a walk in the park, even if you just sit on a bench and watch the world go by.
2. Reach out to older people in your community
We're all worried about older relatives, friends and neighbours, but what about other old people living nearby who don't have loved ones to help them?
If you know of an older person on your street who doesn't get many visitors, pop a note through their door with your name, contact number and a quick outline of what you're happy to do for them, such as organising online shopping, picking up extra items when you're in the supermarket, or just giving them a call for a quick chat every few days. It takes five minutes to do, but could mean the world to somebody without family nearby to support them.
3. Set up alternative ways to keep in touch
If face-to-face contact is restricted – either by the Government or because of self isolation – then we'll need alternative ways to stay in touch. If older people already have a smart phone or computer, show them how to download and use Whatsapp, Skype or FaceTime now, and even get them set up on social media, so that they'll still be able to keep in touch with you. If they're unable to use the internet, make sure you call their landline every day to check on them. Ideally, make a a rota with other loved ones so that you take it in turns to check up on them (and they get to hear from more than one person!).
It's also worth setting up an emergency plan in case you become unwell and can't check up on them. Make sure a couple of other people know what you've been doing so that they can shoulder the responsibility if you're poorly.
4. Get them to embrace internet shopping
Those of us who are used to online shopping will be better able to cope during isolation, so offer to set up deliveries for older people or, better still, show them how to do it themselves. Data from the Office for National Statistics show that 83 per cent of people aged 65 to 74 used the internet in 2019, up from 52 per cent in 2011, so many people in this age group already have access to the web, they may just need a little help using online shopping for the first time.
If they're not online, many independent shops are offering free deliveries to older people and will accept orders over the phone. The same applies to some local pharmacies, so call around and supply older people with relevant numbers.
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Amazon Pantry offers loads of offers on store cupboard essentials, from baked beans to pet food. Let elderly friends and relatives know they can do a lot of shopping here if online grocery lead times are too long, or send them a little care package of essentials.
5. Encourage them to get some fresh air
We get most of our Vitamin D from sunlight exposure, which is crucial to maintaining strong, healthy bones, so spending time outdoors is crucial. So long as the older people are physically able, they should be encouraged to take daily walks until the government introduces any stricter rules on isolation. Advise them to walk alone or with a family member who is completely healthy, and to keep a two-metre gap between themselves and other walkers.
If they're a keen gardener, this is a great time to get outdoors and tidy up the garden after winter. If they're not up to walking to gardening, even just sitting in the garden or opening up doors and windows for half an hour can have a positive impact.
6. Make sure visitors wash their hands
We should all be asking visitors to wash their hands as soon as they arrive, even if they're perfectly healthy. Check whether older friends, neighbours or relatives have enough soap, and create a notice for them asking all visitors to wash their hands immediately when they arrive at the house, for at least 20 seconds.
If you know an older person who has carers coming into their home, create notes for them asking each carer to wash their hands thoroughly on arrival and before preparing any food or administering any medication. You could even leave a supply of disposable gloves inside the front door for the carers to wear.
7. Support your local care home
Many care homes across the UK have suspended visits to try and protect residents. If you have a relative in a home that is affected, contact them to find out about video calling. Even if the home itself isn't equipped with laptops or tablets, the staff members should be able to use their mobile phones to allow you Skye or FaceTime contact with your loved ones, just ask them to thoroughly clean any phone used first.
Even if you don't have loved ones in a care home, take the time to send handwritten letters to residents of homes in your area to keep their spirits up. If you have children, get them to paint pictures or write notes and then post them to homes that are in lockdown. It's a small thing to do but could make a huge difference to the day of somebody feeling scared and alone.
8. Check their supplies
It's a sad fact that the the elderly and vulnerable are worst impacted by the panic buying that's taking place everywhere. Make a point of checking what supplies of essential items the older people you know have, and offer to help them stock up if they need anything. Even if they're well stocked with tinned goods and frozen items, offer to drop off fresh fruit and vegetables, or pick up medications for them.