During the last few months, the threat of, and the arrival, of the coronavirus pandemic has put an additional strain on senior adults who are living with chronic health conditions. Due to these conditions, seniors are more vulnerable to serious complications or death as a result of contracting the virus.
This is a physical and emotional drain on everyone involved, including the senior, family members, and care professionals who may be providing care in the home or caring for seniors in nursing homes.
So how does one manage the chronic illnesses while guarding against COVID-19?
Who are the Most Vulnerable?
People age 65 and older who are dealing with the following health risks are the most susceptible to the devastating effects of COVID-19:
- Chronic lung disease
- Moderate-to-severe asthma
- Heart conditions
- Chronic kidney disease
- Liver disease
The list also includes people who are immunocompromised, which includes:
- People undergoing cancer treatments
- People taking immune-weakening medications
- Bone marrow or organ transplant patients
Seniors with dementia are extremely vulnerable, as they may not understand what precautions they should take or who to call in case of a health emergency.
The Challenge to Care Management
COVID-19 complicates care management in many ways, including distracting seniors from managing their care. Also, obtaining medications and consulting with a physician can be hampered by the need to remain at home. In addition, the isolation and depression from staying at home for weeks or months can sap the mental and physical energy of seniors.
Obviously, chronic illnesses cannot be ignored. If a senior was managing their diabetes before the pandemic struck, they still have to manage the disease, which includes monitoring diet, medications, and glucose readings, as well as regular communication with a physician.
Coping Strategies and Resources
During this pandemic, it is vital for all of us to think ahead and provide assistance to our loved ones. Seniors need to have a sufficient amount of medications in the home at all times. To that end, it may be possible to contact the senior’s health insurance company to see if 90-day supplies of medications can be obtained instead of 30-day amounts. This is important if the senior is still picking up medications at a pharmacy.
Many pharmacies are now offering drive-thru pickups or home deliveries to eliminate exposure. Just don’t wait until the last minute to order a prescription refill. Seniors need to be reminded that they must take their medications as prescribed, just as they did before the pandemic.
Also, seniors should monitor their health and stay in contact with their physician if any change is noticed in a chronic condition, or if symptoms related to COVID-19 is suspected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on COVID-19 symptoms.
Nutrition and Hydration
Nutrition and hydration are vital when addressing chronic health issues, and the pandemic has made the simple act of grocery shopping more complex. It may also be a confusing process for some senior adults, particularly those with a mild form of dementia. Because grocery stores are experiencing shortages of certain food items at times, a younger family caregiver who can either order online for a senior or pick up items at the store and deliver them to the senior’s doorstep may be necessary.
More Sleep, Less Stress
It is important in controlling chronic health problems that seniors to get sufficient sleep. Seniors should find activities that engage their mind and perhaps their hands, in relaxing activities. They should stay informed about the virus, but also it could be healthy for them to turn off the news at times and listen to some music, read a book, or start a craft project.
During the pandemic, frequent handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent infection, as well as disinfecting often-touched surfaces in the home.
Seniors should continue to exercise in the home, as weight gain and inactivity can worsen the effects of diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Some health care providers are offering telehealth as an alternative to a face-to-face meeting with a patient. The senior or a family member can contact his or her physician to see if this is an option.
According to the AARP, some family members and their seniors are concerned about admitting home care services personnel–a critical resource in managing chronic illnesses–into their homes. The worry is that home care medical professionals and aides come into close contact with their patients in providing their services.
The AARP notes that, “to continue needed in-home care, nurses, hospice attendants, personal aides, and therapists are taking extra precautions to mitigate the risks of transmission and keep their patients as safe as possible.” Home care personnel are also making more telephone visits to check in with seniors.
Coping with chronic illness in a senior adult is complicated enough. Adding the frightening and largely invisible threat lurking with COVID-19 makes care management decisions even more complex. A care manager, a professional versed in the medical needs of seniors as well as many other issues that face senior adults and their families, can answer many questions about dealing with COVID-19 while managing chronic illnesses.
If you’re dealing with a chronic illness during the pandemic, contact a Care Management professional today to ensure you’re receiving the best care.