Experts recommend safe social contact with elderly loved ones during pandemic

Local News

DAVIS, Calif. (KTXL) – With COVID-19 cases rising in the Sacramento region, experts are once again warning the public to protect older friends and relatives who are more vulnerable to complications from the disease.

For a lot of people, social distancing during a pandemic is a tricky road to navigate.

People want to stay away from elderly friends and relatives to prevent exposure to COVID-19 yet they don’t want them to feel lonely and isolated.

Experts told FOX40 over Zoom Monday that there are ways to find a balance.

Dr. Terri Harvath is director of the Family Caregiving Institute at the University of California, Davis’ Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

“We know from a lot of research that social isolation is very harmful for older adults and for their family caregivers,” explained Harvath. “Keep your distance but stay engaged and stay in contact.”

Harvath stressed the importance of making sure older adults feel loved and cared for during the pandemic. A simple phone call is good for mental health.

“We are now calling our mom every day,” said Harvath. “I’ve got eight siblings who are doing this so we can cover all the days of the week in terms of checking in on her. And she loves the fact that she’s talking to all of her children more often than she was before the pandemic.”

In situations where there is an in-home caregiver, Harvath advises that person to continue staying in the home as much as possible and consider having others who live outside the home provide care in ways that do not involve personal contact.

“The outside-the-home people can go grocery shopping, can pick up things that are needed, bring those to the door, leave them. And the caregiver can bring them inside so that the risk for exposure is kept at a minimum,” said Harvath.

Research continues to indicate the coronavirus is mostly spread through the air.

“We do know, however, that transmission can also occur when we touch a hard surface that is contaminated and then we touch our face,” said Harvath.

Harvath recommends people continue to wipe off new, nonporous items that come into the home.

Harvath is also concerned that older adults are not seeking out the health care they need for fear of going to the doctor alone and she urges health care systems to allow caregivers to accompany them.

“I know at UC Davis we allow family caregivers to frail older adults to accompany them into the emergency department if they’re being seen there. Recognizing that, particularly for somebody with dementia, having a familiar face who is with them is integral to them having the ability to cooperate with the care that they need,” explained Harvath.

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