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Health Experts Warn Seniors to Prepare for Tough Holiday Season & How You Can Help

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/)

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