The holiday season poses an additional challenge for seniors during this pandemic. As older Americans are the most high-risk population, seniors need to be particularly careful this upcoming holiday season.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 million coronavirus cases have been reported since November 23, despite recommendations that people forgo traveling for Thanksgiving and limit celebrations to members of their household.
But many are still holding family gatherings outside the CDC guidelines with people in the high-risk 65-and-up age group.
Christine E. Kistler, an associate professor of geriatric and family medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and research committee member of the American Geriatric Society, identified large gatherings as a key risk factor in the upcoming holiday season that will contribute to an increase in cases.
“When tough choices have to be made, there are steps that families can take to lessen but not eliminate the chances of spreading the virus,” said Kistler.
Health experts weigh-in
Tough choices do need to be made this holiday season based on the sheer fact that, according to the CDC, eight out of 10 COVID-19 related deaths in the U.S. have been adults 65 and older. Senior Americans have accounted for 190,964 of the 240,213 reported COVID-19 deaths as of Wednesday, November 25.
Mariah Robertson, a Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center geriatric medicine and gerontology educator fellow, warns that the real number to be worried about is two weeks later.
“I anticipate that we’ll see in the next two weeks [after Thanksgiving] an even higher spike in cases across the country because people are gathering and traveling,” she added. “We’ll see something similar near the Christmas holiday for similar reasons.”
“As a geriatrician, it really scares me,” said Mariah Robertson, a Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center geriatric medicine and gerontology educator fellow. “We’re going to see a lot more older adults in the hospital and a lot more older adults dying as a result of some of these gatherings and some of this travel that people are doing.”
“I anticipate that we’ll see in the next two weeks [after Thanksgiving] an even higher spike in cases across the country because people are gathering and traveling,” she added. “We’ll see something similar near the Christmas holiday for similar reasons.”
The problem with social isolation
The holiday season already is already associated with a strain on mental health, such as depression and anxiety. According to a survey, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that approximately 24 percent of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse and 40 percent “somewhat” worse.
Factoring in the potential emotional strain from social isolation during this pandemic and the loneliness and anxiety that comes along with that, our seniors need our emotional support especially during this time of year!
Alternative holiday plans for 2020
Until there is an FDA-approved vaccine that has been widely distributed and America has seen a significant drop in cases, health experts say preventive measures will need to be taken.
Robertson added that while “social isolation is bad for anyone… we still need to find ways to connect during these really important holidays” through alternatives such as virtual meetings or house drive-by greetings.
Creative ways to make your senior loved ones feel cared for this holiday season:
Help them with holiday shopping. Assist them in online ordering or simply pick things up for them as they normally would go shopping themselves.
Drop them off their traditional holiday treats and meals.
Zoom, Facetime, Skype, or other video chat over your holiday meal as you would across the table.
Offer to help (or surprise) them with holiday lights or decorations to keep the spirit of the holiday season alive!
Go caroling! Surprise your senior loved ones with holiday carols (wear masks of course and social distance).
Do a house drive-by and wish them a happy holiday. You can spend this time dropping off holiday presents or goodies as well!
(Article from MedicareWorld.com: https://medicareworld.com/feature/seniors-prepare-tough-holiday-season-how-you-can-help/)
Caregiving, especially from a distance, is likely to bring out many different emotions, both positive and negative. Feeling frustrated and angry with everyone, from the care recipient to the doctors, is a common experience. Anger could be a sign that you are overwhelmed or that you are trying to do too much. If you can, give yourself a break: take a walk, talk with your friends, get some sleep—try to do something for yourself.
Although they may not feel as physically exhausted and drained as the primary, hands-on caregiver, long-distance caregivers may still be worried and anxious. Sometimes, long-distance caregivers feel guilty about not being closer, not doing enough, not having enough time with the person, and perhaps even feeling jealous of those who do. Many long-distance caregivers also find that worrying about being able to afford to take time off from work, being away from family, or the cost of travel increases these frustrations. Remember that you are doing the best you can given the circumstances and that you can only do what you can do. It may help to know that these are feelings shared by many other long-distance caregivers—you are not alone in this.
Taking Care of Yourself
Taking care of yourself if one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver. Make sure you are making time for yourself, eating healthy foods, and being active. Consider joining a caregiver support group, either in your own community or online. Meeting other caregivers can relieve your sense of isolation and will give you a chance to exchange stories and ideas. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Caregiving is not easy for anyone—not for the caregiver and not for the care recipient. There are sacrifices and adjustments for everyone. When you don’t live where the care is needed, it may be especially hard to feel that what you are doing is enough and that what you are doing is important. It often is.
Mom has some dementia. We moved her to assisted living just a few months before the whole pandemic thing started. She had just started to show signs of agitation – but whenever I visited her she would calm down. But then, all of a sudden, I couldn’t visit and I started to worry – how was she doing? Was she getting worse? After a couple of months I started seeing heartwarming pictures of families seeing loved ones through the window of their nursing home, or standing on the curb as grandparents waved from the porch – and I wanted some of that warm feeling for myself and for mom. So, I arranged a window visit, and it didn’t go well. She doesn’t understand the virus, quarantine, visiting restrictions, or what the world is currently experiencing. She kept asking why we couldn’t touch or get someone to unlock the door. She got more agitated and confused the longer we went on. I kept it light, upbeat and told her I would be back later, but maybe that isn’t a good idea. I don’t know. I worry.
Whether your loved one is living in their own home, or a long term care facility, the pandemic has probably changed how and when you interact with them, and you have probably questioned if visiting – and hugging them – is safe for either of you. If you live in another state, you may not be able to travel to see them as frequently or safely as you did before the pandemic. You may even start to feel like you are no longer their caregiver.
Being a family caregiver means not only taking up new duties, it also means taking on a new identity. This role often takes precedence over other relationships – and during the pandemic, if we can no longer be with the person we are caring for, we are left for a time on a threshold between these roles, not fitting into old patterns and not ready for new activities. No matter how much we do as caregivers, it takes effort to feel we did enough, especially when we are trying to balance our complex roles. When we can no longer be with our care recipient, it can leave us feeling sad and with a sense that we’re not being good caregivers. Many are left with a sense of unfinished business, have feelings that were not expressed, or are denied forgiveness that was not asked.
Caregiver grief is a lonely business. With conditions such as dementia, it usually begins long before your loved one’s death. Depressive feelings of sadness and emptiness, anger, and guilt, are common – and isolating. The challenge lies in looking at our grief as a companion rather than an enemy, a reminder of the preciousness of the relationship. Self-care is critical to managing this grief. When we have no one else to care for but ourselves, it can be difficult to re-establish routines. The discipline of physical exercise, of good nutrition and diet, can begin to take up those spaces that caregiving used to fill, and lay the foundation for what is to come. Caring for oneself with time and patience also helps relieve depression and anxiety, and helps you move beyond loneliness.
Finding new routines during an ever-changing set of restrictions can be especially challenging. If your loved one is living in a long-term care facility, stay in touch with the facility staff. Visitation policies can change at a moment’s notice. And if your loved one lives far away, consider different ways to travel and see them. Renting a small RV and living in it while you visit would be one way of maintaining isolation and avoiding exposure to hotels and airports. And sadly, if your loved one is experiencing a health crisis or is approaching end of life, you may want to re-evaluate your approach. Sometimes, the danger of exposure to COVID can feel less important than saying good-bye in person.
After a time, you will be able to look back and discover many gifts in the caregiving journey you undertook, knowing that you gave so much love and good care under the most trying of circumstances. Eventually, we will all move back into life in a new way, wiser and more patient, with a renewed sense of tenacity and appreciation for the human touch.
Medicare’s Open Enrollment is October 15-December 7
Let AgeSmart Community Resources help you find your way through the ever-changing world of Medicare Open Enrollment. Beginning October 15 all people with Medicare may change their Medicare health plans and prescription drug coverage for the following year to better meet their needs. Information for next year’s Medicare plans will be available in early October.
AgeSmart’s trained Senior Health Insurance Counselors can help you make an educated decision about your coverage. Our goal is to help simplify the process and make sure you have the insurance and prescription plan to suit your needs. We will meet with you over the phone, review your current plan, and based on the information you provide, share options that may better serve your individual situation.
These services are confidential and unbiased. To schedule a telephone appointment, please call AgeSmart Community Resources at 618-222-2561.
AgeSmart Community Resources, your local Area Agency on Aging, serves Madison, St. Clair, Bond, Clinton, Monroe, Randolph and Washington counties. Our mission is to give older adults the opportunity to help them maintain their health and independence and to live well. For more information about AgeSmart Community Resources visit www.AgeSmart.org.
Loneliness is a real health issue — and these steps can help save lives by Erwin Tan, M.D., AARP, March 16, 2020
En español | A recent scientific report elevates social isolation and loneliness to the level of health problems, associating them with a significantly increased risk for early death from all causes. Of course, social isolation and loneliness can become more common with age. And the arrival of the novel coronavirus will almost certainly make the problem worse.
Public officials are asking that we all socially distance ourselves to prevent COVID-19’s spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that those age 60 and older avoid crowds, and that those in a community with an outbreak stay home as much as possible.
According to the scientific report mentioned above, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and funded by AARP Foundation, 43 percent of adults age 60 or older in the U.S. reported feeling lonely.
A 2017 study showed that social isolation among older adults is associated with an estimated $6.7 billion in additional Medicare spending annually. At the same time, people 60 and older and people with severe chronic health conditions — such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes — are at higher risk for developing more serious illness from COVID-19. Americans will all likely experience increased social isolation and loneliness in combatting the pandemic. Identifying these additional health risks and developing mitigation plans are important first steps.
2. Plan and connect
It’s important to talk to family and friends to develop a plan to safely stay in regular touch as we socially distance ourselves, or if we are required to self-quarantine for a possible exposure or are in isolation for a COVID-19 infection. This plan should confirm whom you can reach out to if you need help accessing food, medicine and other medical supplies.
It’s also important that communication and planning allow us to remain safely connected as we practice social distancing. Involve another element: actual social connection. Remaining connected is especially important for people who live alone; regular social contact can be a lifeline for support if they develop symptoms. Regularly scheduled phone calls and video conferences along with texting and emails can help compensate for a lack of in-person contact. So take a break from news stories and social media; hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting, and it’s important to talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Family and friends will need to work together to make sure they can remain connected without exposing each other to COVID-19. Look at your schedule and identify social connections that might be disrupted during an outbreak and consider alternative solutions to stay connected. If you are a family caregiver or have someone close to you who’s more at risk of social isolation, discuss what will happen if either of you develops symptoms and whom you could call on for support or help.
3. Make a list of organizations that can help
Create a list of community and faith-based organizations that you or the people in your plan can contact in the event you lack access to information, health care services, support and resources. If your neighborhood has a website or social media page and you haven’t joined it, consider doing so to stay connected to neighbors, information and resources. Consider including on your list organizations that provide mental health or counseling services as well as food and other supplies. State and local governments are setting up resource lists for those affected by COVID-19. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also has an online locator and hotline, at 800-662-HELP (4357), to help people find counseling services near where they live. AARP Foundation’s Connect2Affect program provides information, self-assessments and affordable options for low-income older people to stay connected.
4. Remember pets (their value and their needs)
Pets can help combat loneliness, and some pets have been linked with owners’ longevity. The World Health Organization has also determined that dogs cannot get coronavirus. Still, it’s always important to wash your hands after contact with your pets. And just as you need to ensure you have sufficient supplies for yourself and family, be stocked with food and other supplies for your pets.
5. Know who’s most at risk for social isolation and loneliness
People at the highest risk of developing more serious illness from COVID-19 and who should be the most vigilant about social distancing will also be the most at risk of increased social isolation and loneliness. For example, the CDC has recommended that long-term care facilities discourage visitation.
Moreover, those under quarantine or in isolation will experience additional emotional and, possibly, financial hardship. While planning will be important, understand that many people are likely to experience increased social isolation and loneliness.
COVID-19 has also magnified existing disparities for low-income older adults. Internet coverage gaps — the so-called digital divide — are more prevalent in many places, especially low-income communities. These areas are often the last to get broadband and often at slower speeds, leaving these communities at an ongoing disadvantage.
If public sources of internet access such as libraries and commercial establishments close, regular phone calls will be increasingly important for friends and families to remain connected.
I asked my older neighbor across the street last week if she needed help with groceries and if she could pass along my phone number to her children, who live out of town, so they would have another contact on the same street as their mother. That personal interaction reminded me that COVID-19 is testing the bonds that connect us all. Reaching out to our friends, families and neighbors can help protect all of us from COVID-19 as well as social isolation and loneliness.
Erwin Tan, M.D., is a director at AARP Thought Leadership. His areas of expertise include geriatric and integrative medicine, health longevity, volunteering and perceptions of aging.
Experts say the flu vaccine is key to avoiding ‘twindemic’ by Sarah Elizabeth Adler, AARP, August 27, 2020
En español | The latest worry for doctors and health experts across the country is the possibility of a “twindemic” — an overlap between coronavirus outbreaks and flu cases during the upcoming 2020-2021 flu season — that could sicken countless Americans and overburden the nation’s health care system.
Older adults in particular are at higher risk of severe illness from both COVID-19 and influenza, which experts say makes getting a flu shot this year — including timing your shot and choosing the right type of vaccine — more important than ever.
When should I get vaccinated?
Flu shot availability began popping up at pharmacy chains and doctors’ offices this summer, but when it comes to getting the shot, earlier isn’t better. “The best time to get vaccinated is from mid-September through the month of October,” says William Schaffner, M.D., medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
That’s because the immunity conferred by the flu shot wanes over time, particularly for older adults. Getting vaccinated too soon, for instance, in August, could mean losing protection while the 2020-2021 flu season is still in full swing.
Experts aren’t able to predict how long a given flu season will last, but activity typically peaks between December and February and can last as late as May.
Which flu shot is right for me?
Adults 65 and older should ask their health care provider for either the high-dose or adjuvanted flu vaccine, Schaffner says, both of which produce a stronger immune response (and therefore more protection against the flu) in older adults.
This year, the high-dose vaccine is quadrivalent instead of trivalent — meaning it protects against four strains of flu instead of three — and a quadrivalent version of the adjuvanted vaccine will also be available.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), manufacturers are ramping up their flu vaccine production this year, with no significant delays in distribution reported so far.
Where can I get the flu shot?
Some locations that typically offer flu shots, like workplaces, won’t be able to this year due to concerns around maintaining coronavirus precautions such as social distancing.
But pharmacies (including national chains like CVS and Walgreens), doctors’ offices and health departments around the country are still offering vaccines, which are typically free with insurance. (Find a location near you with the CDC’s VaccineFinder tool.)
Schaffner says that some medical practices in suburban areas are even planning to host drive-up flu shot clinics, which will allow people to get vaccinated without stepping foot in the office.
Others, he says, have already shifted their scheduling to offer flu shot-only appointments in the morning or late afternoon, which help patients minimize the time they spend inside and around others.
No matter where you go, be prepared to wear a face mask during your appointment and to observe other COVID-related precautions, like getting a temperature check and waiting 6 feet away from other patients.
Schaffner acknowledges that while many people have concerns about visiting a medical facility during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no question as to the flu vaccine’s importance, particularly for older adults — and no other way to get one.
Or, as he puts it, “it’s hard to vaccinate via telemedicine.”
O’Fallon, IL – AgeSmart Community Resourcesannounces that itsSenior SkipDay Programrecently received a 2020 Aging Innovations Award from the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), the highest honor presented by n4a to member agencies. The awards program is supported by Centene. Senior Skip Day, in partnership with Greenville University, provided a day of service pairing older adults with college students,was among the top 17 of 44 local aging programs to receive honors during the n4a Virtual Conference & Tradeshow, September 22.
The 2020 n4a Aging Innovations and Achievement Awards recognizes n4a’s Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and Title VI Native American aging programs members that develop and implement cutting-edge approaches to support older adults, people with disabilities and their family caregivers. Among the selection criteria was the ease with which other agencies could replicate the program in their communities.
“n4a is thrilled to present the Aging Innovations and Achievement Awards to a diverse and remarkable group of Area Agencies on Aging. We salute all those who have enhanced the prestige of this awards program by sharing their innovative initiatives with their peers in the Aging Network,” said Sandy Markwood, Chief Executive Officer of n4a.
Senior Skip Day, was initiated to bring students and older adults together, prevent social isolation, and bridge the gap between generations. Students were matched with seniors in their community and volunteered to provide much needed assistance at the homes of older adults. Students participated in activities including yard work, painting, small repair projects, gardening and cleaning. “Seeing the interaction between the students and the older adults was heartwarming. It provided a great learning experience for all participants. Reaching out and supporting our older adults builds a stronger and healthier community.” said Joy Paeth, CEO of AgeSmart Community Resources.
“Judy asked me if I would be interested in trying a GetSetup class offered by them. I am game to try anything. I’ve parachuted out of an airplane at 13,000 feet so, I said — ‘yeah sure!’ ”
At 78 years old Kay is no stranger to technology. She and her husband regularly use Facetime and Skype to help out their daughter as virtual grandparents. Kay is the grandparent of her daughter’s 9-year-old twins and has been in constant contact with them since the pandemic started…”
Absentee voting is available and no excuse is required. The last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is 5 days before the election. Voted ballots must be received by election day in order to be counted.
You do not need an excuse to vote absentee in Illinois.
You can request an absentee ballot:
In person – no more than 90 days but before 1 day before the election
By mail inside the US – no more than 90 days or less than 5 days before the election
By mail outside the US – no less than 30 days before the election (to receive the full ballot), or less than 30 days but no more than 10 days before the election to receive the Federal Ballot only
You can start voting the absentee ballot 40 days before the election.
Steps to request an absentee ballot:
STEP 1: Obtain the proper application for an absentee ballot, either by mail or in person, from your election authority.
STEP 2: Upon receipt, complete the application. Make certain to include your name, home address, address where you want the ballot to be mailed, and please remember to sign the application.
STEP 3: After completing the application, either mail it or hand-deliver it to your election authority. If you return the application in person or complete the application in the election authority’s office, you may immediately vote with your absentee ballot in the election authority’s office. If you mail the application and it is properly completed, the election authority will mail your absentee ballot to you.
STEP 4: After receiving your ballot, VOTE THE BALLOT IN SECRET. Insert the ballot into the envelope provided, seal it, complete and sign the certification on the back and PERSONALLY return it or mail it. The absentee voter may authorize, in writing, that a spouse, parent, child, brother, sister, or licensed motor carrier, should deliver the completed absentee ballot to the election authority in sufficient time to be delivered to the polling place on Election Day.
More information available at www.vote411.org/Illinois.