family member visiting elderly loved one

How to Safely Check in on Seniors During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As dedicated elder care lawyers serving Southeastern Massachusetts, we always look out for seniors. During the coronavirus pandemic, we are especially concerned for the health and well-being of those most vulnerable to COVID-19 and we know that you, their loved ones, are too. Since we all want to protect our older family members and friends, Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. has compiled a list of tips, gleaned from the CDC and other reliable sources, about steps you can take to make them safer. We’ve also included here some red flags that should draw your attention.

Depending on the physical and mental state of your senior, the following instructions may have to be tweaked. Some healthy 90-year-olds are sharp as a tack and will remember to take appropriate precautions. Some 70-year-olds, however, especially those who are seriously ill with a chronic condition or have early dementia, may have to be very carefully monitored.

Follow COVID-19 Rules at Home as Well as in Crowds

The virus doesn’t care where you are or who you’re with. For this reason, you have to try to protect your older loved ones whether they lead a solitary life or are still involved with numerous others. This means that whether you live with them, visit them frequently, or just check in once in a while, you should:

  • Wear a mask and/or keep a safe distance whenever possible
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often and make sure they do the same
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth 
  • Keep hand sanitizer near your loved one for necessary use*
  • Sneeze or cough into your sleeve, whether or not you’re masked 

* Because aging skin is fragile, keep hand cream nearby as well

Our best advice is not to completely let your guard down at your home or in the homes of those close to you. Anyone who has been at school or work or to the grocery store or local restaurant may be harboring the virus. By the same token, if you’re feeling even a little bit under the weather, you should avoid being close to, or taking care of, your senior relative. 

Protect Your Elderly Loved One from Anyone Who Might Be Carrying COVID

Remember that anyone who comes near your loved one may be contagious, even if she or he is not showing any symptoms of the disease. Therefore, make sure anyone who enters the home — a family friend, a visiting nurse, a professional caregiver, an electrician or plumber, a person delivering food —  is masked (with a mask that covers both nose and mouth) and stays at least 6 feet away. Anyone who is feeling less than healthy should not be permitted in the home.

Make Sure Your Loved One’s Home Is Cleaned and Sanitized Frequently 

It must be part of the daily household routine to wipe off surfaces and objects touched by more than one person. If the senior is becoming less capable, don’t leave this task to him. The person in the caregiving role should be regularly wiping down:

  • Cell phones
  • Pill containers
  • Door knobs, banisters, light switches
  • Bathroom surfaces
  • Tables, trays, serving carts

If the senior is active, remind her to expand the list to include: elevator buttons, hallway railings, keyboards, exercise equipment, and frequently touched parts of a shared car, such as the steering wheel, door handles, directional signal, and radio dial.

Paying Attention to Signs of Trouble Can Make All the Difference

Most of us are already aware of the great variety of symptoms that may signal the onset of COVID-19, including:

  • Runny nose
  • Headache 
  • Cough and sore throat
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fever and chills
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of smell and taste
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

With such an inclusive list, it’s easy to be led astray by a simple cold or a bout of indigestion, but it pays to be overly cautious. If you suspect your loved one may be coming down with COVID, have her or him tested quickly. There is too much evidence that a seemingly mild case of the virus can suddenly turn deadly to ignore the possibility of infection.

Signs of Increased Vulnerability to Coronavirus Due to 

Like all of us, seniors are more at risk of getting COVID if their overall physical or emotional health weakens their immune system. Therefore, it is essential to check for and act on signs that something is amiss, such as that your senior is:

  • Not hungry or has lost weight
  • Is dehydrated
  • Is listless or overly tired
  • Seems uncharacteristically sad, irritable, or angry
  • Is more confused than usual
  • Is disheveled or inappropriately dressed
  • Looks or smells unclean
  • Is living in uncharacteristically untidy or dirty surroundings 
  • Has stopped cleaning the sink or stocking the refrigerator
  • Has stopped taking in the mail or newspaper or paying bills
  • Seems to be over- or under-medicated

Again, much depends on whether your loved one has been independent up to this point, is under your care, or is being taken care of by a healthcare professional. If the latter is the case, you will probably have to make a rapid change of personnel. No matter what, though, your loved one should visit the doctor post-haste, at least for a virtual consult. Hopefully, COVID-19 is not the problem, but it may be time to consider (or reconsider) planning for or implementing long-term care.

©Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. 35 Arnold Street, New Bedford, MA 02740, 336 South Street,   Hyannis MA 02601 and 45 Bristol Drive, Easton MA 02375.  This article is for illustration purposes only.  This handout does not constitute legal advice.  There is no attorney/client relationship created with Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. by this article.  DO NOT make decisions based upon information in this handout.  Every family is unique and legal advice can only be given after an individual consultation with an elder law attorney.  Any decisions made without proper legal advice may cause significant legal and financial problems.