Saturday, August 8, 2020

Restful Sleep: How to Get the Rest You Need

Sometimes it is hard to sleep, even if we're tired.
We all know we should get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Unfortunately, as we age it becomes more difficult for many people to fall asleep and stay asleep.  One of our neighbors, a recent widow, told us she often does not fall asleep until 3:00 in the morning.  Another friend of mine goes to bed by 11:00, but wakes up again around 4:00 a.m.  I often rise in the morning to find Facebook posts she made in the middle of the night.  She has frequently mentioned that she just cannot sleep through the night. I know other people with sleep problems, too.  Sometimes, national events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic or a major disaster, can cause people to have a difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep.

Sleep is such a big issue, that WebMD recently sent out several posts about how to get the rest you need.  Below are some of the suggestions I gleaned from their articles.

How Aging Can Affect Your Sleep

Sleep problems are common as we get older.  In fact, according to WebMD, more than half of people over the age of 65 have problems with sleep.  Here are some typical reasons:

1.  Pain - This includes a broad spectrum of issues including arthritis, back pain, GERD and other physical issues. You might find relief with over-the-counter pain relievers.  Physical therapy, massage, chiropractic treatments, and acupuncture are all non-invasive ways to manage your pain.  In some cases, surgery may help with specific issues.  Discuss your options with your doctor.

2. Neurological problems - These can cause restless sleep, erratic movements and agitation.  Sometimes they are a result of Parkinson's or Alzheimer's Disease.  Your doctor can treat some of these symptoms so you can get better rest during the night.

3.  Medication - If you are unsure why you are having trouble sleeping, discuss your medications, including over-the-counter ones, with your doctor or pharmacist.  Even medications you have taken for a long time may affect you more as you age.  Some medications you take, like certain cough medicines, can often make it harder for you to sleep.  Other culprits may be drugs for heart disease, high blood pressure, and thyroid problems.  Your doctor may suggest a different drug or change the dosage of your current medication.

4.  Waking Up to Pee During the Night - This is a very common problem and can disrupt your rest if you have difficulty falling back to sleep after using the bathroom.  You may want to limit the amount of liquids you consume after dinner, including anything containing alcohol or caffeine. Even something you are drinking to help you sleep, such as camomile tea, may cause you to wake up in the middle of night to pee.  Reducing or eliminating those substances may alleviate the problem. If not, your doctor may give you water pills or diuretics you can take early in the day so you eliminate excess urine.  There are other prescriptions drugs which can help, too.  Your first line of action, however, should be to simply eliminate the liquids you drink in the evening, and then see if more action needs to be taken.

5.  Menopause - Some women have trouble sleeping when they go through menopause and experience hot flashes during the night due to sudden surges of adrenaline.  Hormone therapy may help resolve this problem.

6.  Changes in your body rhythm - Your body may start to get tired earlier in the evening, causing you to also wake up earlier, or the opposite could be true.  You may have trouble falling asleep in the evening, causing you to stay up too late at night. Choose a consistent bedtime and ease into it with a relaxing evening routine such as reading, gentle yoga, or calming music.  (We love being able to ask our Echo Dot to play spa music.  It is a very easy way to relax.) (Ad)

7.  Sleep apnea or snoring - If you snore, seem to stop breathing during the night, or wake up tired even after a full night's sleep, you might ask your doctor to do a sleep study and determine if you have sleep apnea.  There are treatments.

8.  Restless Legs Syndrome - Sometimes your legs and/or arms may jerk or have strange sensations.  It is also called periodic limb movement or PLM.  About 20% of people over the age of 80 have it.  There are medications which can help you manage the symptoms.  (In my own experience, I used to get restless legs syndrome until I began to take magnesium and calcium supplements before bed.  However, the dosage can vary from person to person, there are side effects, and you should discuss any over-the-counter treatments with your physician.)(Ad)

9.  Mental and emotional problems - Some people have trouble sleeping because of depression. bipolar disorder, anxiety, and similar problems.  As I mentioned before, a neighbor of mine began to have trouble sleeping because of her grief.  Whether these problems affect your sleep or not, you may want to discuss these issues with your doctor and get the therapy or medication they recommend. 

10.  Long daytime naps - Although a short nap in the afternoon may make you feel rested and restore your energy, naps which are too long could make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.  You may need to experiment with skipping the nap in order to sleep better at night, or set an alarm before your nap so you limit it to about 30 minutes.

11.  Heart problems - Atrial fibrillation (AFib), angina, shortness of breath and other symptoms of heart disease can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.  Discuss your symptoms with your doctor, because heart problems can be dangerous if left untreated.

More Ways to Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep

Regardless of why you are having trouble sleeping, there are a few actions you can take on your own which may help.

1.  Make a to-do list - Some people find themselves thinking of everything they need to do, the minute their head hits the pillow.  Make a to-do list, either on paper or your phone.  List everything you need to do the next day, and then set it aside.  You will no longer have to worry over these things, which could make it easier to relax and rest.

2.  Put aside your electronic devices, including your smart phone, as early in the evening as possible.  If you do use them, use the "nightshift" or "blue light" filter on your devices so they will be less disruptive in the evening. 

3.  Drink less alcohol, or none at all, especially in the evening - Alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but as it wears off it can cause you to wake up after just a few hours of sleep.  If you have trouble sleeping at night, or you wake up in the middle of the night, it might help if you stop drinking alcoholic beverages in the evening.

4.  Drink less caffeine during the day - There is caffeine in coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks and some over-the-counter pain medications.  Caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep, and cause your sleep to be more restless.  You should not drink anything with caffeine in it after lunch, because it can stay in your system for as long as eight hours.

5.  Have a relaxing bedtime ritual and try to stick to the same bedtime every night.  Your evening ritual could include a warm shower (but don't go to bed with damp hair), a few minutes of yoga, meditation, listening to spa music, or deep breathing.  If you live in a noisy neighborhood, you might try sleeping with earplugs, turning on a fan, or getting a white noise machine.  (Ad)  You may also try setting your bedroom temperature low.  WebMD suggests setting the thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees at night.  

6.  If you wake up during the night, try deep breathing.  One system is called 5-7-8.  Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale slowly for 8 seconds.  Pause, and repeat until you simply doze off.  Another technique is to count backwards from 100.  Anesthesiologists have used this technique for decades when they ask people to count backwards while they administered anesthesia. You can also try progressive relaxation. Tighten and relax different groups of muscles while taking slow deep breaths.  Start at your toes and work your way up through your legs, stomach, back, arms, etc.  You will feel more relaxed.

7.  If you decide to get up because you are having trouble sleeping, try doing something quiet and boring ... read something dull or listen to soothing music. Don't pick up a book that is a real page-turner. Don't do anything productive or that will keep you busy.  Do not cook, clean, answer emails, or post on Facebook or Twitter.

If you try all of the above suggestions and still have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor and be honest about all your habits, over-the-counter medications, and anything else which could be affecting your sleep.

If you are interested in learning more about common medical issues as you age, where to retire, Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase from an Amazon ad, I'll make a small commission to support this blog, at no extra cost to you.

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Photo credit: Pixabay - Jordan_Singh

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Covid-19: Older Workers and Retirees can Lower their Financial, Emotional and Physical Risk

Across the United States in the spring of 2020, activities began shutting down because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Within months, schools, restaurants, bars, stores, offices and other businesses closed. Most people thought the closures would only last a few months.  By mid-summer, however, it became obvious that high unemployment and sporadic closures could continue until early 2021, or longer.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the effect Covid-19 has had on children, students, workers, and families.  However, very little attention has been paid to the significant effect it has had on people over the age of 60 ... both those who are already retired and those who were planning to retire in the next few years.

What are some of the ways this coronavirus pandemic has affected older Americans, and what can they do to minimize or repair the damage?

Financial Consequences of Covid-19

For many Americans who were planning to wait a few more years before they retired, the sudden loss of their job or business has forced them to stop working sooner than they planned.  Even if they were not forced out of their job, many are making the difficult decision to prematurely end a career such as teaching or sales, if it involves working long hours with the public.  This is especially true if they have underlying health conditions which could make them more vulnerable to Covid-19.  Unfortunately, just being over the age of 60 puts them at higher risk.  If they also are overweight, have diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, asthma or other health problems, they are at extremely high risk.

Being forced to stop working sooner than planned can result in both immediate loss of income as well as lower Social Security or pension benefits in the future.  In addition, the sudden forced retirement is happening at a time when interest rates and dividends are so low that it is hard to generate much extra retirement income from savings.

The best solution for those faced with an inconvenient early retirement is to find safe ways to earn extra money from home to supplement your retirement income.  For example, you could research how to become a contact tracer in your state, making phone calls from home to people who may have been exposed to Covid-19.  Or, you may be able to tutor children or teach lessons online.  If you are comfortable working with small groups of children, you may even tutor two or three children in their home, even if that means spending most of the time in their backyard.  Many parents are desperate for childcare and would welcome a former teacher or compassionate adult who is also able to help their children with distance learning a few hours a day.  Supplementing your income safely will help stretch your Social Security or pension benefits until you have the time to make necessary adjustments to your lifestyle.  Finding a way to work a little longer might also make it possible for you to postpone collecting your Social Security or pension benefits, which would increase your payments in the future.

If you are suddenly forced into full retirement or semi-retirement, you should not delay arranging a less expensive lifestyle for yourself, whether that means moving somewhere less expensive, getting rid of a car with high payments, or drastically cutting down on your discretionary spending. 

Health Consequences of Covid-19

Many people are talking about the "Covid 15."  By that they are referring to the 15 pounds they may have gained because they are eating too much and not getting enough exercise.  However, simply because you are not socializing or going to the gym, you do not have to give up your former health regimen.  If anything, you need it more now than ever before.

Make sure you keep your immune system strong by eating well-balanced meals at home, including both a healthy source of protein and an assortment of whole grains, fruits and vegetables throughout the day.  If job loss has substantially reduced your income, food pantries all over the country have stepped up to provide boxes of staples for anyone who needs it.  You may also qualify for food stamps (SNAP) or other programs which provide meals to senior citizens.  Contact your local Senior Center, Social Services Department, or Social Security Office for more information about available programs.  You may be able to apply online.

Start your day with a brisk walk around your neighborhood.  Set a goal of walking 30 minutes or more every day.  Wear a facemask and maintain a safe distance between you and other walkers. Most of them will be trying to keep their distance from you, too! Make it interesting by driving to new parks or trails where you can walk.  Once you return home, use stretch exercise bands or free weights to work other parts of your body, too. Scan through the guide on your TV to see if there are any exercise classes you can follow.  If not, there are some great exercise videos for seniors you may want to try.(Ad)

Make sure you keep up with visits to your doctor and dentist. Your doctor may offer video conference or telephone appointments, after sending you to a lab for any necessary blood tests.  Get any vaccines or other treatments recommended by your doctor.  Continue to see your dentist, but make sure they are following all the recommended guidance for protecting you from exposure to bacteria and viruses.  If goggles are not provided, you may want to bring your own goggles or safety glasses to help protect your eyes from being exposed to viruses in the air. Dr. Fauci recommends that everyone wear goggles or face shields whenever possible, in addition to your facemask. (Ad)

Any time you leave your home, wear a facemask, unless you have to remove it in order to have your teeth cleaned or for other essential reasons.  Keep a variety of cloth and surgical facemasks on hand, so you are always prepared.  Facemasks are an essential part of your plan to stay healthy during this pandemic. (Ad)

Emotional and Social Consequences of Covid-19

Another impact of Covid-19 on older Americans is how it has disrupted their social connections, often leading to loneliness and depression.  Churches, book clubs, Alcoholics Anonymous, and other groups which provide emotional, spiritual and social support are no longer able to meet in person. While religious services may be available online, for many people it is not the same when they are no longer able to see their friends in person.  In addition, because many younger adults fear they could expose their elderly parents or grandparents to Covid-19, they may have cut back sharply on their family visits.  As a result, retirees are often losing the support of both their friends and family.

Over the past few months, countless Americans have found themselves spending long periods of time alone, with little social interaction. In addition, millions of people have had a close friend or family member die during this period of time, either from Covid-19 or other illnesses.  They are grieving at a time when their friends cannot show up to comfort them.

In order to reduce your loneliness and depression, it is important that you reach out and connect with other people any way you can.  Take advantage of technology such as Zoom, Facetime, Skype or WhatsApp to video conference with friends, family, and club members.  Make it fun, by setting up your own refreshments, sharing funny stories, and asking for video tours of their homes.  My husband and I have been enjoying weekly Zoom meetings with our four daughters and their families.  Listening to their banter with each other, and seeing the projects they have been working on during quarantine, has brought our family closer.

When possible, carefully arrange in-person visits with a few people at a time.  Set up a few chairs outside your home or at a park, at least six or more feet apart.  Everyone should wear facemasks, unless eating or drinking.  If there is food, everyone should bring their own meal with them or do something simple, such as ordering separate pizzas and eating on paper plates which can be thrown out as they leave.  There is no reason not to enjoy in-person time with others, as long as both you and your guests are willing to be cautious, maintain a healthy distance, and wear facemasks.  Have a party and enjoy yourselves!

Clubs, churches, and other organizations can also benefit by holding carefully arranged outdoor meetings in parks or parking lots, where there is enough room for appropriate spacing.  It can be very comforting to see people in person.

Finally, find activities to keep your mind active.  There are many volunteer jobs you can do for political campaigns or charities which can be done from home. Crochet an afghan or make a quilt and donate it to an online raffle so your favorite charity can raise money.  Call people you think may be lonely and chat with them awhile. They will really appreciate the attention. Send notecards to old friends. Send birthday and anniversary cards. Make calls or send postcards to support your favorite politician. Keeping busy will make you feel relevant and necessary in the lives of other people.

Keep Balance In Your Life

Despite Covid-19 and the chaos you may feel going on outside your door, you can continue to be content and lead a balanced life, as long as you pay attention to your financial, emotional, social, spiritual and physical needs. It may take a little time to find the right balance, but with practice you can overcome most of the difficulties created by this pandemic.

If you are interested in learning more about where to retire, common medical issues as you age, Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase from an Amazon ad, I'll make a small commission to support this blog, at no extra cost to you.

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Photo credit:  morguefile

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Caring for a Sick Spouse When You are Still Healthy

Now that my husband and I are both in our 70s, we have known several couples who have had to face a difficult dilemma.  One of them may have a serious illness and require more help than their spouse can give them without help.  Since some survivors of Covid-19 are experiencing serious ongoing health problems, such as kidney failure, heart disease, neurological problems, and cognitive decline, this problem could become even more common. What should you do if your spouse becomes too ill for you to care for them by yourself at home?  What are your choices?  This is something every aging couple needs to consider and plan for.

Can You Manage Their Care in Your Home?

If your home will meet the needs of the person who is ill, and you have someone you can call on to help your spouse shower, eat, and use the bathroom, then you may be able to keep them at home. Are you able to lift your spouse or transfer them to a wheelchair, while not letting them fall?  Whether or not you can manage their care at home may depend on how sick the person is, and how much they are capable of doing for themselves.  It may also depend on how much assistance you can round up to help you.  Are there adult children who can help? Have you considered making some home modifications so it is easier for them to shower, or could you purchase equipment that will help you lift or move your spouse? Is there an adult day-care center in your community where your ill spouse can go a few times a week, allowing you to run errands without worrying about leaving them alone?  Can you afford to hire a part-time caregiver?  With enough assistance, both of you may be able to manage just fine in your current home.  However, do not feel guilty if you cannot do everything by yourself. It is okay to admit you need help.

Should You Move Your Spouse to Assisted Living?

If you are not able to get the help you need in order to keep your ill spouse at home, another option is to move them to an Assisted Living or Memory Care facility.  This is especially common when they have severe dementia.  They may be at risk of wandering off; or they could try to cook and start a fire. They may try to drive or do something else that could endanger themselves or others.  Eventually, it could become nearly impossible to leave the person alone. In these situations, it may be necessary for them to be moved to a facility to keep them safe and where they can get the full-time care and attention they need.

Nearly every community in the United States has a variety of nursing homes and assisted living facilities available. Before you need one in an emergency, check out the ones in your area and find out if they could meet the needs of your family member.  Do they have skilled nursing available?  Do they offer memory care?  Do they offer activities which will interest your family member, such as entertainment, a swimming pool, art classes, or a putting green?  Do they encourage patients to be as active as possible? Do they offer physical therapy? Will it be convenient for you and other relatives to visit them in this facility?  Has the facility arranged a safe meeting area for residents, so they do not become exposed to Covid-19 by outsiders?

Perhaps, most important, you will want to consider whether or not you will be able to afford this facility.  Do you have long-term care insurance to cover the expense, or will you qualify for Medicaid?  Do you have enough savings to pay for it?  What is your plan?

It may be helpful to read something like:  "Choosing an Assisted Living Facility."(Ad)

Consider Moving to an Assisted Living Facility with Your Spouse

Several couples we know have moved into a care facility together, even if only one of them needs extra care.  When they made the decision to live together in one of these facilities, it often brought relief to them both.  The responsibility of being the total caregiver for a sick spouse is removed from the shoulders of the healthier spouse.  Neither person has to buy groceries, prepare meals, do dishes or clean their residence. The healthy spouse is free to come and go as they please, while the sick spouse is cared for.  The sick spouse no longer feels guilty for being a burden on their partner.  At the same time, they continue to live together and spend time with each other.

Live Together in a Continuing Care Community

The most common way for a couple to live together in a care facility is to either purchase or rent an apartment or cottage in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, also referred to as CCRCs.  These residential communities are designed specifically for this kind of situation. Here's a brief description of them:

Buy into a Continuing Care Retirement Community - Some types of continuing care facilities require you to purchase a condo or cottage in their community.  You bring your own furniture and decorate your home as you please.  You move in while one or both of you are still in somewhat good health ... at least ambulatory or able to walk under your own power.  In addition to the purchase price, you also pay a monthly fee.  These communities usually have their own skilled nursing facilities and memory care facilities where you will continue to be cared for when you can no longer manage in your own condo. They are called Continuing Care Retirement Communities because they guarantee that they will care for you for the rest of your life, regardless of your needs, as long as you or your family continue to make the monthly payments.

You start by living independently in your own apartment.  If necessary, you will eventually be cared for in their skilled nursing or memory care facility.  If your total lifetime medical expenses cost more than Medicare and your insurance will cover, plus the amount agreed to in your purchase contract, the excess amount is deducted from the resale price of your condo when you die.  A percentage of the remaining value of the sales price is passed on to your heirs.  This type of Continuing Care Retirement Community, which requires you to buy your residence, typically does not accept long-term care insurance or Medicaid to pay the monthly fee, but there may be some exceptions.

Rent an Apartment in a Continuing Care Retirement Community - Another option is to move into the type of continuing care community which allows you to rent on a monthly basis without the need to actually buy a condo.  You do not own your unit, but you are able to bring your own furniture and decorate it as you please.  The basic monthly rental will vary, depending upon the size of your apartment, with extra fees assessed based on the level of care you need.  These communities may accept Medicare and any other insurance you have as payment for your medical expenses, and Medicaid for your long-term care, if you qualify for those programs.  They will also accept long-term care insurance or private payments.  Otherwise, they are very similar to the type of CCRC which requires you to buy a condo.

Like the CCRCs which require you to purchase your home, you start by living independently in your own apartment.  If necessary, you will eventually be cared for in their skilled nursing or memory care facility.  It is very important to find out the base price as well as the assessments charged for the extra help your spouse may need, such as assistance taking a shower.  Your cost of living in these facilities will increase when your medical needs become more serious. You need to take that into consideration when you move into one.

Cost for Two People to Live in a Rental Continuing Care Apartment

Since I was curious about what it would cost if my husband and I decided to move together into a continuing care community, I decided to get information about it from one of the facilities in our neighborhood.  The one I chose was Las Palmas in Laguna Woods, because it is owned and operated by SRG, a company which operates senior living communities all over the United States.  I assume their model and pricing will vary somewhat from place to place, but is generally similar.  Below is what I learned.  I rounded the numbers up to the nearest $100, since prices are likely to rise each year. These were their 2019 prices.

Typical Rental Fees for Couple in Independent Care / Assisted Living

Rental for a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom independent living apartment:  $3900 to $5400 a month

Second resident (who does not need assisted living care):  $900 a month

Community Service Entrance Fee:  one time charge of $3000 

Extra care fees:

Level 1 Care for one person - additional $900 a month
Level 2 Care for one person - additional $1,500 a month
Level 3 Care for one person - additional $1,800 a month

Total Monthly Expenses for Two

This assisted living facility is in Southern California, near Laguna Beach, so it is probably more expensive than facilities in other parts of the country.

Based on their fees, however, a couple with one sick family member and one healthy one, living together in this continuing care facility, with one person needing Level 2 or intermediate extra care, would spend about $7,000 a month for both of them.  Some of my friends have told me that is approximately what they are paying to live together in other, similar facilities in our area, so this seems like a common price in Southern California.  Most people would NOT need to pay all of that out of pocket, however.  Depending on your situation, a sizeable portion of those costs might be covered by either Medicaid or your long-term care insurance.  The remaining living expenses could be covered by your Social Security benefits or other retirement income.

The $7,000 monthly fee would include rent, three meals a day for both of you, utilities (except phones), maid service, most activities, and entertainment for two people, plus necessary medical care for the ill spouse.  This is only $900 to $1400 more than the cost for one person to live alone in a studio apartment in the same facility, so the healthy spouse can live with their partner for very little extra. 

Deciding Financially How to Care for Your Spouse

Whatever you decide, finances will probably play a large part in your decision.   As you can see, in some cases it may be more affordable for a couple to live together at a continuing care facility than to live separately in two different locations.  In other cases, it may be less expensive for the healthy spouse to remain in their current home, while using Medicaid or long-term care insurance to pay for the sick spouse to stay in a skilled nursing or memory care facility.  In fact, that might be the best choice if there is reason to believe that the ill spouse will recover and be able to move back into your home in the future, for example, if they are recovering from Covid-19.

You need to be realistic when you consider how seriously ill your loved one is. If they have advanced dementia, and you cannot afford memory care for them, it might help to read "The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, other Dementias, and Memory Loss."  (Ad) It contains an extensive amount of information about how to make it easier to care for someone with dementia in your own home.

You should also check out different facilities in your area.  Find out whether or not you and your spouse are likely to qualify for financial assistance from Medicaid.  Many people are surprised to find out they can qualify, even if they own a home or business. If not, see if you can purchase a long-term care insurance policy while you are both still healthy.  There are also life insurance policies which can be converted to long-term care insurance, so you can use the benefits while you are alive.

Plan Ahead

Make a plan now for how you and your spouse will cover the cost of care, should one of you become ill.  Whether you decide to keep your spouse at home, move them to an assisted living facility, or both of you move to a continuing care facility, it is wise to investigate local facilities and have a plan before one of you is diagnosed with a serious illness.  It will be much more difficult if you have to make a last minute decision.

If you are interested in learning more about where to retire, common medical issues as you age, Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase from an Amazon ad, I'll make a small commission to support this blog, at no extra cost to you.

You are reading from the blog:

Photo credit:  Las Palmas SRG Senior Living Community in Laguna Woods, CA

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Covid-19: Avoid People You Love - You Could be Contagious and Not Know It

We are safer from Covid-19 outside, but avoid crowds!
Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with Covid-19?  By mid-July, 2020, approximately 1% of Americans have had positive test results.  It is possible that the actual number of cases may be several times the official number, so you or someone you know could be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, and contagious, at any time.

Personally, I know of several people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19. Four of them were Caucasian males in their 50s and 60s.  Two of them died and their families are grieving, shocked by how suddenly and unexpectedly they lost a loved one.  Two of them spent several days in a hospital and are now recovering at home.  One had well-controlled diabetes, until he was exposed to Covid-19. The others were healthy prior to their diagnosis, and thought they were at low risk. Just this week, another woman I know shared on Facebook that she, too, had been diagnosed with Covid-19 after a visit to see her family in Arizona. Since none of us have a natural immunity to this virus, we are all at risk of getting it.  

Could You Give Someone Covid-19?

In the July 20, 2020 issue of Time Magazine, there was a moving essay by Belinda Luscombe titled "We think we gave our neighbor Covid-19."  Belinda lives in a New York City loft and briefly spoke with a neighbor who was moving.  Although the neighbor was wearing a mask when he stopped by for a quick conversation, neither she nor her husband were wearing masks.  Two days later, Belinda and her husband were diagnosed with Covid-19. Two weeks later, their neighbor texted them to say he had it, too. At the time she penned her essay, Belinda's neighbor was in the hospital and she was feeling guilty and worried that she and her husband might have given this disease to their neighbor before they had symptoms.  She now feels remorseful that during a brief encounter, they may have caused a dear friend to develop a serious illness or, possibly, die.  She regrets not putting on a mask during that short conversation.

Asymptomatic People Can Carry Covid-19

One of the most worrisome aspects of this coronavirus is that asymptomatic people can shed the virus without realizing it.  They can pass it to others, even when they feel perfectly healthy.  In fact, it is believed that one 25 year-old woman in China passed the virus to 71 other people after returning to China from the United States.  She passed it to them after a single elevator ride, during which she did not encounter anyone else. How did that happen?  After her flight back to China from the U.S., she promised authorities that she would self-quarantine until she had a negative result on a Covid-19 test.  She went straight home and took the elevator to her apartment once, where she remained quarantined, ultimately learning that she had tested positive.  Other people riding the elevator later that day became infected.  Those people attended a party a few days later and exposed others.  Ultimately, 71 people were exposed, and all the cases were traced back to that one woman and her single ride by herself on the elevator.  This disease is extremely contagious. You can read more of the details about this incident here:

A Woman Gave Coronavirus to 71 People

It is a thought-provoking article about the risk we all face, particularly in poorly ventilated indoor spaces which could be used by other people.

Death is Not the Only Risk

Some people may feel that as long as they survive this virus, they have nothing to worry about.  However, there are other consequences which are also very serious.  According to a WebMD article on the coronavirus, survivors can expect other problems, including:

"Liver problems or damage, heart problems, kidney damage, and dangerous blood clots, including in their legs, lungs, and arteries. Some clots may cause a stroke."

"A few children and teens have been admitted to the hospital with an inflammatory syndrome that may be linked to the new coronavirus. Symptoms include a fever, rash, belly pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and heart problems. The syndrome, now being referred to as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C is similar to toxic shock or to Kawasaki disease, a condition in children that causes inflammation in blood vessels."

Some people who have survived continue to experience extreme fatigue and other health issues long after their initial symptoms.  There have been reports of people remaining sick for months. Some have experienced neurological problems, including cognitive decline, brain fog, and nervous system disorders. Some have experienced hair loss, shortness of breath and memory loss. Unfortunately, the damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and other organs is likely to be permanent.

In other cases, patients have recovered and tested negative, only to become sick again. Doctors believe that some of them may have become reinfected just a couple of months after recovering from their initial bout with the disease. Others may have never fully recovered, despite their negative test results.

If these types of symptoms continue to happen to a large percentage of survivors, they will be unable to return to work again for months, if ever, and this will do further harm to our economy.

The United States cannot afford to let this disease run wild.  It would do too much damage to our country, as well as devastate many families emotionally. Already, an estimated 1.5 million people are grieving the loss of someone in their family who has died.  This number will only grow.

How Can You Avoid Getting or Passing on Covid-19?

Everyone has heard the basic rules repeated over and over.  We should all stay home as much as possible, wear a face mask (Ad) when we must go out, and wash our hands frequently.  However, many people are beginning to get bored with this strict regimen and are starting to cheat. Others never really followed it to begin with.  Some people even have gone so far as to believe the virus is a hoax which cannot hurt them.

As a result, people are unintentionally exposing their friends and family to this disease, causing a huge spike in cases over the past few weeks.

Why do we risk the lives of the people we love? We rationalize that we know these friends well, or we rarely get to see them, or we are sure they have been careful, so it will be safe to get together.  We miss seeing our adult children, grandkids and other family members, and can't wait to hug them whenever we do see them. After all, we are certain that we are healthy.  We feel fine. We tell ourselves that enjoying a meal with friends in a restaurant should not be a problem.  We don't want to be rude by turning down invitations to weddings, birthday parties, and other special events. We attend the funerals of friends and family. Sadly, in too many cases, people have been deceiving themselves and risking the lives of the people they care about the most.

We really need to hold firm until this virus either wears itself out, or we reach herd immunity (after 70% of people have had it), or there is an effective vaccine.  Perhaps we will eventually benefit from all these factors, and we can get back to normal and move on.  Until then, this virus will continue to exact a heavy toll on people we care about.

Meanwhile, the best protection for you and others is to avoid as many people as possible ... especially the ones you love!  It is particularly dangerous to be indoors with anyone you do not live with.  If you must have someone inside your home, you should both wear a mask and stay as far apart as possible.  If you have a repairman in your home, keep your distance and even consider going into a separate room while they work.  After they leave, disinfect everything they may have touched and, if possible, open doors and windows to air out the space.

Outdoor Spaces Appear to Be Safest

Several studies have indicated that your risk of catching or transmitting Covid-19 outdoors seems to be significantly lower, especially if you maintain an adequate physical distance.  That is because the droplets and aerosol spray which people spread when they talk, sing, cough or sneeze are less likely to reach other people when they are outdoors.  On the other hand, when indoors, the aerosolized droplets can remain in an enclosed space long enough to infect people for hours after the carrier has left!

Even when outdoors, however, it is wise to stay at least six feet or more away from anyone you do not live with, and wear a face mask. According to Time Magazine, July 20, 2020, a facemask "when used properly, can reduce transmission by somewhere between 50% and 85%."  If you choose to wear an additional face shield, it can increase your protection even more, particularly from the direct spray of a cough or sneeze.  Keep plenty of clean face masks and clear plastic face shields on hand so you are prepared for any encounter. (Ad)  Have a designated outdoor space where you and others can socialize, while maintaining a safe distance.  In this way, you can still see your family or a friend or two, as long as everyone is willing to respect the rules, stay outdoors, and play it safe.

Until this virus is defeated, we should treat everyone as though we have a very contagious disease, and they do, too!  After all, we could be right.

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Photo credit: Beach photo taken by author