It was two years ago this summer that my mom and dad moved into an independent living community. My dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s ten years earlier, and while he was (and is) still doing relatively well, they were eager to make the change while they could both still enjoy the advantages and features of the community.
Now, with Covid-19 growing in scope every day, Alyson and I are thankful that our parents are no longer living by themselves, at home.
Home Is Not Always Better
It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that moving to — or remaining in — a senior community during a health crisis is a good idea. But there are advantages to doing so.
Older adults are among the most vulnerable populations. And while I completely understand the psychological benefit of being in familiar surroundings with family nearby, staying at home could exacerbate the potential risks:
Who comes in the house and how are they monitored? Friends, neighbors, home health aides, even grandchildren are all potential carriers of the virus.
What about medicine? And food? How will this arrive and continue to arrive if the crisis goes on for weeks or months? Independent older adults may be perfectly capable of going to the grocery store or pharmacy, but these are exactly the kinds of places they should avoid.
And what if there is some type of non-virus-related medical emergency at home, such as a fall? If our first responders and emergency facilities become overburdened as predicted, where would these older adults turn for the help they need?
Senior Communities Are Healthcare Specialists
In a senior community, all the situations described above are planned for and taken care of.
The staff is right there, on site. Any type of medical issue, whether Coronavirus-related or not, will be addressed. If a resident has a problem, they can pull a cord or press a button for help within minutes. And if a staff member gets sick or stays home to care for a child who is temporarily out of school, there are other personnel available to step up.
Food and medicine are delivered and prepared on a set schedule. The building and facilities are cleaned and sanitized professionally and frequently. If your loved one moves into a community on a short-term respite stay during this pandemic, they will move directly into quarantine in their own apartment. It is not ideal but may be a big improvement over being further isolated in their own home.
Maybe most important during a health crisis, senior communities are staffed by professionals who have been (highly) trained in “universal precautions” to reduce the spread of infection.
If Home Is the Only Option
Of course, not everyone has the option of moving to a community, whether permanently or for the short term. Here are some things to keep in mind if you know of older adults who are planning to remain at home.
Stock up on prescription medication. The limiting factor regarding how much you can obtain tends to be insurance-related, but do what you can to have at least a few weeks’ worth on hand.
Get a personal medical alert system. These can be shipped directly and are simple to self-install. If you already have one, GREAT! Now is a good time to test that it’s working properly.
Don’t discontinue home health providers. Yes, having outsiders come into the home carries some risk. But if you’re the only caregiver to your parents and you become ill, you’ll need someone else in the mix. If you already have care in place, keep it going.
Have a backup plan. Infection estimates suggest that half the U.S. population or more could become infected. There’s a reasonable chance that whomever you’ve got in place — friends, neighbors, yourself — to deliver food and medicine, check in on older adults, etc., could be sidelined. Now is the time to think through what you would do if that were to happen.
Establish a stay-in-touch schedule. Isolation can lead to loneliness, especially among older adults. Daily phone calls are a simple way to check-in and provide much needed social interaction.
This is a new experience for all of us; nobody knows what will happen next. That’s part of what makes it so scary.
Stay informed, do your best, and offer as much support as you can to the important people in your life. We are here if you need us.