Citizens are encouraged to take extreme precaution with the COVID-19 pandemic that’s rapidly spreading internationally and to be mindful of what they can do to prevent additional cases.
Seniors especially are encouraged to stay home and practice social distancing. Several health professionals in the area have tips and reasons for why members of the 55-and-older demographic in particular need to heed public officials’ warnings and eliminate public outings and personal contact with others.
Dr. Heather Boger, Ph.D., director of the Medical University of South Carolina’s (MUSC) College of Medicine Senior Mentor Program and the MUSC Center on Aging, explains that there is an increased vulnerability for seniors to catch the coronavirus since immune system responses decline with age, while respiratory and heart conditions increase.
Boger, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at MUSC, said that seniors are more likely to contract the virus than younger populations and it could end up being detrimental to their health.
She explained that social distancing is the safe response right now.
“We don’t know as much about this virus as we do some other things because it’s new to us. We keep hearing about the longevity of this virus living outside of the body. Stay home in your controlled environment where you can help regulate what comes in and out and not expose yourself to large groups of people that could have various illnesses and you could end up contracting it,” Boger said.
She explained that she’s been having this conversation with her father and senior mentors on a daily basis. But she added that social distancing doesn’t mean people have to be stuck inside their homes.
Boger shared that seniors can still go outside and garden or on walks in open spaces where the virus isn’t as transmittable. She explained there are things people can do at home to decrease depression, stress or anxiety, such as talking on the phone, or FaceTiming family and friends.
“That’s one of the great things about technology right now is there are so many ways to stay in touch” Boger said.
Boger encourages people to contact and keep in touch with seniors during the progression of the virus and keep lines of communication open.
“Social isolation can be very difficult on mental health. It’s important for us as us a society to recognize this, step up and make contact,” she added.
Boger said it’d be great for church, children and school groups to write letters to different senior communities or neighborhoods. She explained that communication can do amazing things in making an individual feel better and not left out. She said it’s important for society to support seniors and reach out to them.
She also recommended for seniors to keep an eye out for the grocery stores and brick-and-mortars that have senior restricted shopping hours. Also, to find friends or family members that they trust to pick up their medicine or food so they don’t have to make contact with anyone they don’t have to.
Boger shared that Trident Area Agency on Aging is setting up requests for individuals that need supplies during this time. The nonprofit is also gathering donations of paper products, cleaning supplies, nonperishables and other necessities for seniors. East Cooper Meals on Wheels is working to assist the needs of individuals that are isolated due to COVID-19 as well.
Seniors that may have had a regularly scheduled doctor appointment or checkup in the next few weeks should not be worried. Boger said many elderly patients keep an in-home blood pressure cuff so they can monitor their own blood pressure. She said most doctors are keeping in touch with their patients’ appointments and will resume once hospitals and doctor’s offices can resume operations.
Boger said there is a lot of information out there that can create fear, anxiety and depression and that it’s key to remain calm. She encouraged people not to hoard and take necessities from people who may actually need them right now.
“We will get through this. There are a lot of different avenues and groups working together to combat this and to help seniors and I think that’s a good opportunity for people to get connected to their communities again,” Boger said.
East Cooper Medical Center’s Dr. Rex Morgan had many suggestions for seniors that concurred with Boger. Morgan, a board certified Internist Geriatrician and Hospice and Palliative Care Physician, has been practicing primary care in Mount Pleasant for the past 15 years. He sees a daily average of 25 adult and senior patients.
“We need to keep the virus from spreading. It’s not necessarily an easy virus to contract; you really need to be close proximity to somebody and touching your face. You’re not going to just get it just walking down an aisle of grocery store by someone who has it. It’s more difficult. Social distancing is trying to keep all contact down the best you can. Stay at home or just go out for small trips. It’s going to keep the disease away from us and let it kind of die/burn out,” Morgan said.
He explained that younger people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience more of a flu-like viral illness while elderly patients diagnosed have extreme respiratory problems associated with the virus.
He encourages everyone to wash their hands vigorously for 20 seconds several times a day, avoid touching their face and stay at least 6-feet away from others, if possible.
“You’re safe in your house, we just don’t want to let the virus in. FaceTime with the grandchildren, don’t have the grandchildren come visit for the time being,” he added.
Morgan encourages seniors to turn off the 24-hour news to lower their anxiety revolving around the coronavirus. Instead, he said to check in for updates on the coronavirus periodically instead of steadily following and stressing out.
“Getting outside and going for a walk is fantastic. It’s a great way to help your heart, mind, stress and you’ll sleep better at night. Getting out and being active is safe,” Morgan said.
Morgan also suggests for people to keep Clorox wipes in their purse or in a bag in their pocket to wipe down gas pumps, debit card machines and other commonly used surfaces.
“Think about who’s been touching what you’re about to touch and be cognizant of that over the next couple of weeks,” Morgan said.
Seniors, it’s time to lace up your walking shoes and walk around the block. Just keep your distance from others and practice social distancing until the virus is a tale of the past.