Coronavirus has now been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation, and it’s the most vulnerable, such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions, that are of greatest concern.
Now is the time to inform yourself as to what coronavirus is and how to keep safe from infection, which is increasingly important for the aged, their carers and their families.
What is coronavirus or COVID-19?
The virus, known as COVID-19 so as to differentiate it from other types of coronaviruses, first appeared in the Chinese region of Wuhan and has since spread rapidly across the globe.
It is characterised by common symptoms of fever, dry cough and tiredness, although having these coronavirus symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has contracted COVID-19, this needs to be confirmed by getting tested.
The good news is that most people (around 80%) recover from the virus at home, however others may well need extra medical attention if their coronavirus symptoms worsen.
How can we keep the elderly safe during the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak?
Health agencies around the world, including the Australian Department of Health and the United State Centre for Disease Control (CDC) have identified the elderly as people being at a higher risk of contracting the virus, which makes taking the right precautions important.
What measures do we need to follow to stay safe and keep others safe?
The basic advice remains similar to that given to younger adults and includes:
- frequent hand washing (of at least 20 seconds) with soap and water after using the bathroom and both before and after eating;
- not touching the face without first washing hands;
- covering coughs and sneezes (preferably using the elbow rather than hands) and immediately sanitising hands afterward, and;
- maintaining 1.5-2 meters of distance between people.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is appealing to people to not stockpile masks as there is currently a global shortage, and healthy residents have no need to be using one. Nursing staff should advise residents on procedure should a fellow resident become infected with coronavirus.
If an aged care facility resident tests positive for coronavirus COVID-19, they must be isolated in a single room as they continue to receive care from facility staff. Facilities should also be providing monitoring and assessment for residents to keep track of the situation, as well as ensuring adequate staffing levels and supplies.
For aged people who live independently, it is important that they monitor their health and inform their doctor should they be concerned about any potential symptoms. Maintaining the above hygiene standards is critical to reducing the likelihood of infection.
How can we protect aged care workers from COVID-19?
If you work in aged care, there are a number of precautionary steps you should take to look after both your own health and that of your residents. If you have recently travelled, you will need to self-isolate for a 14-day period. For those still presenting themselves at work, there are a number of ways to stay safe.
- The most important of which is to maintain rigorous hygiene standards. In addition to the hand washing advice above for residents, workers should also wash their hands after working with a resident, following exposure to any bodily fluids and before and after preparation of food.
- It is also very important to not touch your face without washing your hands prior, as this increases the risk of infection.
- If there is a resident who is infected with coronavirus COVID-19, or an infection is suspected, make sure that you have been provided with the appropriate protective personal equipment, such as masks and gloves.
Can I still visit an aged care facility during the coronavirus outbreak?
The advice from the Australian Government Department of Health is clear: if you feel unwell, you should not be entering an aged care facility.
Even if you aren’t feeling well, there may be other reasons for you to stay away from the elderly, including if you have travelled to at-risk countries recently, or if you believe you have been in contact with an infected person.
Even if these do not apply to you, you should still call the staff on site to enquire whether there is a confirmed or suspected case in the facility. They can advise you on what precautions you ought to take as a result, should you be planning to visit a friend or family member there.
How can we make life easier for the elderly during the coronavirus outbreak?
If you have an elderly friend or relative, keep in mind that they are considered vulnerable in the current outbreak, and should be taken care of. They may experience anxiety about their health, and may also seek to reduce their outings. You can help by:
- keeping in regular contact and checking on their physical and mental health;
- encouraging them to phone their doctor should they be concerned about any symptoms or their circumstances (sometimes elderly people worry that they are inconveniencing others);
- offering to bring them supplies such as groceries, toilet paper, soap, and;
- organising repeat scripts and ensuring that they have a sufficient amount of their medications.
Calm, sensible responses to coronavirus COVID-19
It is understandable for people, especially those at higher risk, to be concerned about their health during the coronavirus outbreak.
Rather than panic, however, governments and health organisations worldwide have appealed for calm and sensible actions. Maintaining good hygiene standards, not touching the face, staying as healthy as possible and isolating yourself if you’re unwell are the best ways to help bring the pandemic to a close.
For our elderly population and those with respiratory issues, a greater level of awareness amongst themselves and the wider community is needed to ensure they are healthy and looked after.
Websites where you can get the most up-to date Health information and news: