Determining when it is safe to visit a grandparent requires knowing a number of general facts and considering other elements specific to the senior and the family members that will be visiting.
Recognize the Facts
Although keeping physically distanced from loved ones is challenging, evidence shows that senior adults are much more susceptible to serious consequences from COVID-19 than younger people.
As people age, their vulnerability to the virus increases. For example, people in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s, and the risk progression increases with age. In fact, 8 out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths occur among people age 65 and older.
Therefore, seniors are encouraged to limit their interactions with other people and take precautions when they do interact with others.
Evaluate the Risks When You Visit Grandparents
Whether or not to visit grandparents can be quite difficult to determine. However, seniors long to see their children and grandchildren, and loneliness can be a predictor of decline and even death in older people.
An evaluation specific to the needs of each individual must be made to determine the amount of risk that is acceptable for a visit. Some of the factors to consider:
Do the grandparents have high-risk medical conditions? These conditions include lung disease, heart problems, and diabetes.
How well have family members been socially distancing? Have you and your children been faithfully following guidelines for social distancing, wearing masks, handwashing, and avoiding crowds whenever possible? Are some family members still required to work outside the home on a regular basis? How many times did someone go to a store, meet a friend for a drink, or otherwise come in close contact with someone who was not following the guidelines?
Have any potential visitors shown signs of infection that can be linked to COVID-19, or have they been exposed to someone with the virus? If so, all visits should be canceled or delayed, and the senior should stay at home and monitor their symptoms for 14 days.
Weighing Benefits Versus Risks
Even when observing recommended practices and following all the scientifically based guidelines, there is no guarantee that family members may not expose their senior loved one to COVID-19. Even asymptomatic grandchildren can expose seniors to the virus.
Yet the longing of seniors to see grandchildren is deeply felt. The Lancet health publication states: “It is well known that social isolation among older adults is a serious public health concern, because of the heightened risk of cardiovascular, autoimmune, neurocognitive, and mental health problems. Social disconnection puts older adults at greater risk of depression and anxiety.”
Reducing the Risk
There are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to senior loved ones. They include:
- Visit outdoors to make transmission less likely.
- Space out tables and chairs.
- Maintain mask wearing and social distancing. Wear masks over nose and mouth unless the senior has a breathing problem.
- Do not share utensils or other items.
- Wash and disinfect items touched by more than one person.
- Have everyone frequently wash hands during the visit. Dry hands with one-use disposable towels.
- Avoid touching your eyes nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your elbow.
- Keep gathering to a small group of people.
- Visitors should bring their own food and drink.
- All visits should take place at the grandparent’s house where there has been less contact with other people.
- While it is tempting to hug or shake hands, it is advisable to limit physical contact.
- If the grandparent is in a senior living community, find out what the visitation rules are.
- If a physical visit is not possible, consider making contact with your senior through social media.
This is a lot to remember, and it goes against many of the natural behaviors people would demonstrate when gathering with family.
On Sept. 13, National Grandparents Day, the important thing to remember is that by limiting physical contact when you visit grandparents, you and your children are actually expressing your love and concern for your senior. Yet having family members just in close proximity may actually be the most touching thing your senior loved one has experienced in months.
For more family-friendly ideas for seniors and their families, visit our blog.