This is how you can help your elderly relatives and friends during the coronavirus outbreak

Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 9:18 am
Updated Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 9:18 am

Many may be concerned for elderly relatives during the coronavirus outbreak - but there are helpful steps you can take to protect and support them.

What is the current advice for elderly people in the UK?

The UK government has instructed the over 70s - a high-risk group - to remain indoors as much as possible in the coming weeks to avoid exposure to the virus.

This makes it more important than ever to make sure you're checking in on elderly friends and relatives - at a distance - to ensure their wellbeing.

What can I do to support the elderly during the outbreak?

General support

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told the BBC that it's key to check on elderly relatives and friends regularly during the outbreak. If you are not able to do this in person, you should make regular phone or Skype calls to check in.

"If you have any concerns about their health or need more information about coronavirus call NHS 111 or visit the NHS website," Abrahams added.

Older people and their families can also call Age UK Advice for free on 0800 169 65 65.

Medication

Another way you can help the elderly is to make sure that they have all the essential medications they need, in case they're not able to leave the house.

Where possible, you could help them to access extras so they don't run out. You can also check whether the local pharmacy is able to deliver medication, as some are planning to do this in the case of a large-scale coronavirus outbreak.

Shopping and food delivery

Though the government maintains that stockpiling food is not a necessity at this stage, you can help less-mobile elderly people by helping them stock up on enough non-perishable food items to keep them going should they - or you - be unable to visit for a little while.

You could also schedule food deliveries to their home if you're trying to avoid contact completely.

Keep them moving

You should also encourage your elderly friend or relative to keep moving as much as possible, even if confined to their home. This is important for boosting physical and mental health.

It can be something as simple as walking around the house, garden, or even standing up a few times every hour.

Carers

If you are not the primary carer for your elderly friend or relative, make sure the primary carer is washing their hands thoroughly and not working if they become unwell.

If the elderly person is in a care home, you should check what the home's policy is in the event of an outbreak to make sure you are aware of what you may have to do should such a situation arise.

What if my elderly friend or relative becomes unwell?

If your elderly relative is showing the symptoms of coronavirus, do not take them to a GP. Instead, keep them inside and call NHS 111. You'll then need to follow the advice given over the phone.

If you believe their life is in imminent danger, call 999 for an ambulance.

What if I become unwell?

If you are experiencing coronavirus symptoms, it is important that you do not continue visiting your elderly relatives or friends, as you may be putting them at risk of also contracting it.

You should instead stay inside and call NHS 111 to get further advice from the health service.

What do I do if I am unable to visit?

If you are a regular visitor or caregiver for an elderly person, you should have an emergency plan in place in case you are not able to visit. This plan should detail the medication the person is on, important contact numbers, and the names of people who might be able to step in if you are unwell or unable to visit.

That way, if the worst comes to the worst, you'll know that your elderly friend or relative is still accessing the medication and help they need.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of Monday 16 March the government advised that everyone should be observing social distancing - avoiding unnecessary travel and working from home where possible. Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms now needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants and theatres to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.

The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.

For more information on government advice, please check their website. https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response

Should I avoid public places?

The advice now is to avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next. https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS