We’re not going to sugar-coat the situation: COVID-19 is a disaster on a scale rarely seen throughout history and is something that the vast majority of us will have had no comparative experience. It’s hard to know what the best course of action is and how best to help, especially as the near future holds many unknowns.
That’s why the answer to how to help the elderly in your community during COVID-19 is dependent on many factors. It depends on where you live, and it depends on how the situation changes. With that said, there are some general pieces of advice we can give that we hope you will find useful and can be generally applied for most people.
We’re well aware you’re probably sick to death of the term, but facts are facts. Elderly people are extremely vulnerable to this virus. Over 70s in general are considered at increased risk, and those risk factors further increase with a wide variety of illnesses and disabilities, many of which are also associated with age.
The best thing you can do when it comes to helping the elderly through this is to stay away, including from care homes. The less people who have contact with the vulnerable, the less chance they have of getting the virus. So, those who have direct contact with the elderly should be keeping this to an absolute minimum.
We know this is one of the hardest parts of this whole situation, but it is for the long-term good of our elderly loved ones and the elderly community generally.
Join a charity to combat loneliness
Naturally, all this isolation adds to the issue of loneliness – which is such a huge problem amongst the elderly generally. It is estimated that the number of over 50s experiencing loneliness will increase to 2 million by 2025/6. Self-isolation can also make this become an even bigger problem than it already is.
And if you’re thinking that perhaps loneliness isn’t that serious in the face of a global pandemic, consider that it is considered worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, increasing your chance of death by 29%.
Just so we are absolutely clear, our advice and position even in the light of these facts remains to stay indoors and self-isolate. This is not a counterargument to that vital medical advice. We are, however, saying that finding ways to combat loneliness that doesn’t require direct contact is more important than ever.
In other words, now would be a perfect time for you to join a charity that combats loneliness, such as Age UK, which offers befriending services over the phone. This means you can help the lonely elderly and beyond without risking their health.
Stay in contact
You don’t have to join a charity to help your local elderly community. If you have family members, neighbours, or anyone else you think could use a bit of extra company, consider giving them a call. If possible, organise a group chat and maybe even have a virtual cup of tea together, so that they can socialise as closely as normal as possible. This can be such a simple yet effective way of helping elderly parents and other loved ones.
How this works specifically obviously depends on their and your individual situation. But if you’re not sure, ask what works for them and see what is possible in terms of technology. Worst case scenario, there’s still few better sources of distanced interaction than a phone call.
Help organise local deliveries
Wherever you live, there should be plenty of delivery services meaning that those staying at home can still get the groceries they need. These could be from the big supermarkets but right now, they are often so overwhelmed with orders that actually finding a delivery slot can be difficult. Another key issue is that a lot of older people do not know how to utilise these services, meaning placing orders can be very difficult for them.
As part of staying in contact, make sure this is something that is being taken care of and if not, the best thing you can do is help organise deliveries yourself. You can take a shopping list for them and get it delivered to their homes.
If this is impossible and you need to deliver it yourself, then make sure it is left outside their home and you do not have any direct contact. It is also important that when utilising these delivery services from stores, you clearly communicate these directions too. In the current situation, this is something that is offered as a matter of routine so you shouldn’t have any issues there.
Moving onto the issue of overwhelmed supermarkets, remember that there will be plenty of local options as well. There’s a huge selection in West Sussex, where we are located, and there should be plenty available in your area too. Not only are these likely to be easier to find a slot with, but you can also help out local businesses, plenty of whom are struggling during these unprecedented times.
Consider helping out with entertainment if you can
One of the toughest things about being at home is not having anything to do. This can take a real toll on our mental health. With that in mind, if it’s possible and if you can afford it, maybe consider helping out your elderly neighbours and loved ones with access to entertainment subscriptions, whether that’s TV, audiobooks or anything else they like that which can be downloaded or delivered. This can really help make this difficult time fly by.
We understand that you can’t personally pay for everyone’s Netflix, for instance, but if you ask those close to your if there’s anything that could help them stay entertained and you can manage it for them, then every little helps. Remember that a lot of elderly people aren’t in the greatest financial situation and can often be too proud to ask, and little things like this can make a huge difference.
Look after yourself
One final point: look after yourself. Just because you may not be elderly or in an at-risk category, that doesn’t mean that you are invincible. You can still get sick and sadly, you can still make others sick. So, take all the precautions necessary to keep yourself and others safe. Wash your hands and stay indoors as much as possible, and we’ll all get through this together.