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Opinion: This is how you protect vulnerable seniors amid COVID-19

We all are facing unprecedented challenges during this global healthcare crisis.
Through the Be a Santa to a Senior program, community members can give a senior a special holiday gift.

We all are facing unprecedented challenges during this global healthcare crisis. 

The range of those impacted will be far and wide - from those whose jobs are at risk, small businesses forced to close, children who will lose months of formal education, to those who will lose a loved one to the virus. 

In these times, our natural instincts are to protect the ones closest to us.  It is well known that the Coronavirus poses a larger risk to seniors and those with compromised immune systems.  
During this social isolation period, it is particularly important to keep your elderly parent at home as much as possible and minimize the need to go out for any errands or appointments. 

Families may be in a situation where they can’t even visit or need to self-isolate themselves.  With this in mind, here are some questions to consider in keeping your parents healthy and safe:
1. Do they have all the food and supplies that they need for an extended period at home?
Many places will still deliver but if your parents insist on shopping on their own, many stores such as Whole Foods, Shoppers Drug Mart and No Frills are dedicating their first hour each day to senior-only shopping.  Alternatively, if they have home helpers or caregivers, they could ask these individuals to shop and deliver these items.
2. Is your parent reliant on home care and if so, do you have a back-up plan? 
The care workers who are continuing to provide the care needed at hospitals, group living or home settings are really the unsung heroes of this crisis, but at this time, it is unpredictable who may catch the virus.  Also, if your parent’s caregiver sees other clients, this may increase their risk of getting sick or being a carrier.  Now may be a good time to create a back-up plan.  How quickly can you find a replacement caregiver if needed? Can anyone in the family fill in? 
3. Is your parent susceptible to depression due to isolation?
If so, you may want to think of ways to keep them connected to family, friends or outside support.  This will be easier if they already know how to use a tablet, computer or smartphone, as there will be more ways to see them via video conference, or keep them occupied with online tools.  Alternatively, an old-fashioned telephone call will do!  
4. Is now a good time to commence home care services to provide extra support?
While adding a new person to the mix seems counterintuitive at this time, in some cases getting that extra support to supplement whatever normal process would be taking place, might be the right solution.   For example, if your parent has care needs that a family member would normally take care of, and that family member has to self-isolate or work longer hours in providing an essential service in the community, some extra support to the senior may be warranted.   
5. Can routine medical appointments be postponed?  If not, is telehealth a possibility?
If there are non-essential appointments coming up such as routine check-ups, dental visits, or eye exams, postpone them until it is safer to go out.  For appointments that are necessary or if something arises requiring a doctor’s opinion, ask your medical professional if the appointment can take place any other way, through video or telehealth tools.  While we have not personally tested this, Telus’s Babylon seems to be a good tool for minor questions and tasks that need to be asked of a doctor such as medication renewals and review of minor symptoms.  We see that Shoppers Drug Mart in partnership with Maple, has also introduced a telehealth service.  These telehealth services are a good replacement for things that you would normally go to a walk-in clinic for, or see your regular GP about.  However, do not rely on telehealth for urgent medical emergencies. 
6. What can replace your parent’s normal recreational activities?
All of us are having to adjust to being at home for much longer periods than we are used to.  Your parent may be missing their normal social outing with friends, bridge games, book clubs, or just casual social visits.  What can they do at home to keep their minds stimulated, and to avoid a mental slump?  Puzzles, books, movies?  As mentioned above, an old fashioned phone call can also do wonders!  Maybe you can even help them set up a multi-person video call with their friends!
The most important thing right now is to stay safe through social distancing, keep those with weaker immune systems particularly sheltered, remain positive – we will get through this together.

Stephanie Chan is the CEO of myCareBase. She is an expert in caregiving, care planning and care management for seniors.


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