Saturday, March 21, 2020

Social Distancing Tips for Retirees - How to Stay Safe

As the novel coronavirus Covid-19 continues to spread across our country and around the world, it is becoming more and more important for senior citizens and others to practice social distancing. Everyone is encouraged to stay at home and, when they must leave their house, to maintain a distance of six feet or more from anyone they encounter. This is especially important for senior citizens, since they may be more at risk of dying from the disease, especially if they have a pre-existing condition such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or cancer.

To make the issue more complicated, seniors are normally encouraged to stay in touch with friends and family, both for their mental health and so someone always knows they are alive and well. This can be difficult to achieve when so many seniors live alone or with only a spouse, especially when they are intentionally trying to self-isolate or practice social distancing. How can you stay safe and isolated while, at the same time, trying to keep in touch with others?

What is Social Distancing?

Good social distancing means staying home as much as possible, and avoiding all contact with anyone outside your home.  It means you should not visit anyone and you should not allow visitors to your home.  You have to act as though every other person may have a highly contagious disease, whether it is Covid-19 or something else.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is recommending that people avoid being in groups of more than 10, and you should only be in a group of that size if everyone can maintain a separation of six feet or more.  In addition, everyone should wash their hands or use hand sanitizer upon arrival and frequently during the gathering, since people tend to touch various surfaces and then their faces several times a minute, which allows viruses easy access to their bodies.  These types of gatherings should be reserved for important public meetings, and only when necessary, not for socializing in a private home or playing a game of bridge.

Ideally, people should spend most of their time alone, or only with their spouse or other people they live with.  Everyone should stay home as much as possible and avoid going anywhere not absolutely necessary.

Work from home, if you can. If you or someone in your family must work outside the home, take extra precautions around them, especially if they work in the medical field or with the public.  In some cases, it may be smart for them to isolate themselves in a separate room or section of the house, away from everyone else, whenever they are home.

While you are social distancing, enjoy things such as online classes, whether it is to finish a degree or just to enrich your mind.

Postpone visits to doctors and dentists, if they are not immediately necessary.  Use the telephone, email or a video chat service to communicate with your doctor.

Do not go to restaurants, bars, country clubs, places of worship, sports arenas, theaters, museums,and other spots where people tend to congregate.

Postpone visits to hairdressers, barbers, massage parlors, and nail salons ... anywhere you will be in close physical contact with another person.

Avoid visits with friends and family.  You may miss the grandkids, but they do not want to carry a disease to you, and you do not want them to feel guilty if you get sick, even if they did not give it to you.

Do not visit friends or relatives in nursing homes, rehab centers, or assisted living. They may be lonely, but you do not want to give them a virus which could shorten their lives.

How to Get Food and Supplies

If you are spending time alone, or only with a spouse, it can become a serious concern to figure out how you can get the supplies you need.  Here are some suggestions:

Order your groceries and other necessities online from sites like Amazon Fresh and Walmart.  They are also a good place to get cleaning supplies such as Lysol or Clorox.  (Ad)

Your local grocer may also have a delivery service. Call them and ask if they use Instacart or a similar service.

Use a curbside pickup grocery service, which is available at some Walmarts and, possibly, other stores.  You place your order online and then pull up to a designated spot in the Walmart parking lot when the order is ready. Someone puts your groceries in the trunk of your car for you. Two of our daughters regularly use this service and love it.

Are you hungry for a meal from your favorite restaurant or fast food place? Use a meal delivery service such as GrubHub or Postmates.  Throw away the outer wrappings and containers as soon as the food arrives, and then wash your hands.  You may even heat the food up again for a few seconds in the microwave.

Patronize local restaurants by getting take-out or going through the drive-in window. 

Have prescriptions mailed to you.  Request a three month supply, if possible.

If you have to go into a store yourself, cover as much of your skin as possible and go during non-peak hours, when the store is not crowded and you can maintain space between yourself and other shoppers. Wipe down the cart handle and anything else you must touch with disinfecting wipes. Wear gloves and a face mask or bandana, or wrap a scarf around your lower face, so you do not touch items on the store shelves and then touch your face.  Your goal is to protect your face from being contaminated by your own hands!  Try to limit your trips to the grocery store or pharmacy to no more than once a week.

Once I leave a store, I lay my gloves palm side up on the dashboard of my car so the sun will hit them.  Direct sunlight is believed to kill the virus on fabric. After removing my scarf and gloves, I use hand sanitizer on my hands and around my nostrils. Finally, when I arrive home, I remove my shoes and jacket and leave them in direct sunlight on an enclosed patio with large windows.  Afterwards, I wash my face and hands.  You may also want to use a disinfecting wipe to clean the packages you brought home and your reusable grocery bags.

According to Professor Greg Polan at the Mayo Clinic, "You cannot get infected if your hands are clean before you touch your face, and if you don't breathe in air from somebody who's sick and coughing."  The steps above should protect you from those possibilities.

How to Stay in Touch with Others

Even though you are social distancing, it is very important for your safety and mental health that you regularly communicate with other people.

Call and chat with family and friends regularly, especially if you live alone.  It is important to have real conversations and use your voice.  Conversations are an essential part of postponing dementia. Just because you are social distancing yourself from other people, you do not want to let yourself mentally deteriorate.

Use FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp to have video chats with family members.  It is a great way to stay in touch with grandchildren and other members of the family.

If you have no one who can check on you regularly, you may want to try an automated daily phone call check-in service such as iamfine.  They will place a daily call to you to make sure you are OK.  It is an invaluable service for people who live alone.  During the months of March and April 2020, they have offered to waive their monthly fee temporarily, since so many people are feeling isolated.  To get the free temporary service, people should enter the Code APRIL2020 when they sign up. 

In addition, you may want to send out personal notes and emails to friends, as well as stay active on social media, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  My daughters text me nearly every day and they call me periodically.  I also chat weekly with my sister and father, and occasionally have phone conversations with friends.  Since I have a husband, I live with someone I talk with daily. I have also read reports of people who moved in with friends or relatives before the virus became widespread, just so they would have companionship.  They call them "quarantine friends" or their "quarantine squad."

How to Safely Get Fresh Air and Exercise

Social Distancing does not mean you cannot go outside.  If you have a yard, balcony or patio, enjoy some time outside whenever possible.  Open your windows in good weather and let in some fresh air. Enjoy a little sunshine.

Take a walk or a hike, keeping a six foot space between you and other people.

A friend of mine and I often walk around a small neighborhood golf course. We drive to our favorite meeting place in separate cars and we stay five or six feet apart as we walk.  We both have seriously ill husbands, so we are extra careful. We wear gloves and, sometimes, I wear a scarf wrapped over my lower face, to keep myself from touching my mouth or nose.  Just as I do when I go to the grocery store, after the walk I lay my gloves on the dashboard of my car, remove my scarf and use hand sanitizer on my hands and around the edges of my nostril and mouth.

Another way to get exercise is to use free weights or exercise videos, following along at home.

Be sure to wipe down any home exercise equipment you use, before and after you handle it, especially if anyone else may use it after you, even someone in your household.   (Ad)

How to Quarantine Someone in Your Family

The time may come when one person in your family is ill with the coronavirus or another contagious disease, but everyone else is healthy. How can you care for them, while keeping yourself and other family members safe?  Here are some suggestions:

The ill person should stay in a separate room, and not share a bed or anything else with other people.

If possible, have a designated bathroom that only they use.

Everyone should be especially careful about hand-washing and using hand sanitizer. Everything possible should be wiped down with sanitizing wipes several times a day, including doorknobs, counters, bathroom fixtures, etc.

Food should be left for the sick person by the door to their room, or placed on a table just inside the door, while the caregiver maintains a distance of six feet or more from the sick person.  They should have their own dishes, which are washed separately as soon as they are finished eating, or placed in the dishwasher to be sterilized.  The caregiver should wear rubber gloves while handling the dishes, and then the gloves should be washed off. Whenever the caregiver must approach the sick person, they should wear gloves and a mask.  However, they should maintain a safe distance unless it is absolutely necessary they get closer.

If the person is seriously ill, has a high fever, is becoming dehydrated or having trouble breathing, call your doctor and follow their directions to take the patient to a hospital, where they can get the care they need.  This will also protect the rest of the family. 

How to Get Medical Care While Maintaining Social Distancing

If you or someone in your family needs to go to a hospital or to see a physician, do NOT show up at your doctor's office or the local urgent care facility or hospital unless you CALL AHEAD.  Some facilities have special, separate locations or entrances for suspected cases of coronavirus and people with other highly contagious diseases.  This is to keep contagious patients separate from people who may be having a baby, a heart attack, stroke, broken bone, or other routine medical event. 

Even if you are seeing the doctor for a common health condition, you want to be sure you are using the correct location and entrance.  You do not want to walk into a lobby full of highly contagious people if you are not sick, and you do not want to contaminate a room full of healthy people, if you are sick.

Do Your Research

Stay up-to-date on information about the coronavirus or any other contagious disease which may be going around.  Watch for news stories on major news networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and the BBC.  Cable stations may also carry stories about Covid-19 and other contagious diseases, but they are more likely to have a political bias, which can affect what they report and even cause a delay in getting life-saving information.  It is better to get an excessive amount of accurate information, than miss an important report because of the political bias of your news source.  In particular, you may want to watch your local news stations for any special instructions or information which could pertain specifically to your state or community.

You may also want to read my related article:

Coronavirus Quarantine: Seniors Should Prepare for Covid-19

To learn more about common medical problems as we age, Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, where to retire and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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