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4 ways to protect the older people in your life from COVID-19

Dr Michela Sorensen
A senior couple laugh as they play on a tablet in a store

Hospitalisation rates are highest in 60 to 70-year-olds

A senior couple laugh as they play on a tablet in a store

You’ve probably heard that older Australians are at greater risk of being affected by the novel coronavirus (or COVID-19), and that they need to be extra vigilant about keeping themselves safe.

But what does it really mean, and what should you do if you have parents, grandparents or loved ones in that age group? We spoke with GP Dr Michela Sorensen to find out.

“The evidence from all across the globe shows older people are being affected much more severely by COVID-19,” explains Michela. “That’s for a multitude of reasons but we largely believe it’s because there are usually other underlying medical conditions that are predisposing them to more severe illness. Plus, they tend to have a more compromised immune system in general.”

Those most at risk during the pandemic are people aged over 70, people 65 or older who have chronic medical conditions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 50. But Michela explains, that doesn’t mean those people are more likely to contract the illness – it just means the impact on their bodies will be more severe if they are infected.

“The highest rates of infection are in the 20 to 40-year-old age group, which may be because they are the ones who are more mobile,” says Michela.

“But the hospitalisation rates are highest in the 60 to 70-year-olds, and those passing away do tend to be on the older end of the spectrum.”

We asked Michela for her tips on making sure the older people in your life remain safe and healthy during the pandemic.

Two senior women chatting outdoors

1. Keep your distance

The government recommends that we all stay home and avoid contact with others. However, this is even more important when it comes to protecting those who are older.

If you’re the carer for an older person, you can still meet your responsibilities, but “keep it to one person at a time visiting them”, Michela says.

“Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly, and don’t take them out to the shops or other public places – take groceries over to them,” she adds.

“Where possible, try not to take your little kids with you when caring for a loved one,” she says. "While the rate of infection in children is thankfully very low, there have still been some cases of coronavirus in children in Australia. The issue is, even if the symptoms are very mild in a child, for example just a slight runny nose, they could still spread it to an older person who could then develop a much more severe infection."

Just because you’re physically distancing doesn’t mean you have to be emotionally distancing as well.

2. Stay connected

It’s important to stay connected while social distancing.

“Keep checking in,” Michela says. “Just because you’re physically distancing doesn’t mean you have to be emotionally distancing as well. Keep in contact via FaceTime, Skype and Zoom.”

And don’t be afraid to get creative. Consider painting your loved one a picture, cooking together via video call or joining them online for a virtual games night.

3. Keep them informed

You have a key role to play in keeping your parents and grandparents informed of the government’s COVID-19 safety recommendations, which are being updated regularly.

“Don’t just assume that they’re okay with what’s going on and that they understand,” Michela advises. “Make sure that they’re keeping up to date and aware of what the recommendations are.”

If you face resistance, try to approach the subject with empathy, advises Michela.

“Be understanding of where they’re coming from, listen to their point of view, ask them what their concerns are, where their thoughts and feelings are coming from, and then just try to be quite gentle, but practical in the way you explain it,” she suggests.

“I think adult children often fall into the role of trying to parent their parents, which isn’t helpful. So try to be really pragmatic, understanding and gentle with your recommendations.”

4. Be aware of health conditions

COVID-19 may be dominating health news but that doesn’t mean other health conditions should be ignored, says Michela. If your older parents or grandparents have chronic conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, they may need extra support to manage their health.

“Make sure that they’re still checking in with their doctor and getting the care that they would normally get, and maybe help them facilitate phone conferences with their doctor,” Michela says.

Related: How to access and claim on telehealth appointments

One of the most important parts of ensuring your older loved ones stay as healthy as possible is by encouraging them to get their flu vaccine. Check out our article, Everything you need to know about the 2020 flu vaccine to find out more.

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Dr Michela Sorensen

Dr Michela Sorensen is a GP who is passionate about women’s, mental and rural health. She believes access is the biggest barrier we have when it comes to our health, and is a strong advocate for change in this area. In her spare time, Michela enjoys baking... and eating most of the mixture before it actually makes it into the oven.