Tips to Prepare Your Older Loved One for Winter During the Pandemic
After getting by for most of the year under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been able to adapt to this new normal. However, the coming winter will reintroduce challenges not seen to the same extent since the early months of the pandemic, such as the return of cold and flu season and limited opportunities to interact in safer outdoor environments. The holiday season is also approaching, forcing all of us to consider how our usual celebrations and traditions will have to adapt to the times.
As caregivers to older loved ones, our concerns this winter are likely to be even greater. Older adults remain at the highest risk for contracting and experiencing the severest cases of not only COVID-19, but also colds and flus. And while staying at home can decrease some of these risks, studies also stress that older adults are also at high risk for experiencing negative effects of social isolation, such as depression and anxiety. Protecting an older loved one’s health while also making sure they stay social and connected may feel like an impossible balancing act.
By preparing ourselves for what’s to come, we can be ready with solutions even before they’re needed. Here are just a few of the things we can do to get ready for this year’s unique winter season:
1. Plan ahead for modified holiday celebrations
While we likely have holiday traditions we like to stick to, it’s important to consider whether these traditions are safe during the current situation. Over the past few months, many family gatherings have become “superspreader events” in which COVID-19 is passed to many people at once.
Because of this, we need to be open to COVID-friendly holiday plans. Large gatherings of ten or more people are strongly discouraged for the holidays this year, especially for older adults. If a loved one’s usual holiday plans involve such gatherings, it’s important to communicate with everyone involved now and discuss how the event can be changed, whether if it’s by reducing the guest list or getting together over video chat.
If we do have a small gathering, we should remember to:
- Wear a mask if there’s anyone present who comes from outside the home
- Stay physically distant from other attendees
- Wash hands and sanitize, especially after using the restroom, handling food or touching your face
2. Make sure a loved one’s living environment is winter-ready
Experts have recommended “hunkering down” for the winter, but to do this, the home has to be ready for a loved one’s needs. We can get their home winter-ready by:
- Making sure their prescriptions are stocked, and that they have access to cold and flu necessities in their medicine cabinet
- Buying nonperishable items for their kitchen in case it’s ever not safe for them to go to the grocery store. We may also want to look into grocery delivery services should these ever become necessary.
- Checking their house for common winter issues that may cause damage or discomfort during the cold season.
3. Combat the risks of cold and flu season
COVID-19 isn’t the only danger of the winter season—cold and flu season can also be high risk to older adults due to weakened immune systems. An estimated 70 to 85 percent of annual deaths during the flu season are adults over the age of 65.
The CDC strongly recommends that any older adult who can get a flu vaccine for 2020-2021 should, not only to protect themselves, but to decrease the spread to other vulnerable adults.
To prevent colds and the flu, a loved one should regularly wash their hands and avoid close proximity to those with cold and flu symptoms. If a loved one is showing any signs or symptoms, we should be sure to contact their doctor right away. Because some symptoms are shared with COVID-19 it’s important to identify the source of the issue quickly so that appropriate treatment can be given.
4. Set up a communication system to minimize isolation
The loved one we care for may have been unable to spend time with people important to them like grandchildren and friends for much of this year. As the year ends and it becomes more difficult for people to get together, even during the holiday season, it’s more important than ever for a loved to stay connected so they don’t fall prey to depression and sadness caused by social isolation, pandemic stress or holiday blues.
If a loved one is tech savvy, we can encourage them to schedule regular calls with family and friends over their preferred video chat platform. Not only can they talk with loved ones over video, but they can also take part in fun activities together—singing carols, baking cookies, playing games, and so on.
If a loved one is less familiar with technology, we may need to help arrange these calls or find ways to help them do it independently. Technology like the Grandpad tablet can help a loved one easily reach family and friends without the complications of regular devices, and many other video chatting platforms like Skype and Zoom have accessibility options older loved ones can take advantage of. Family members can also be encouraged to send holiday letters to older loved ones filled with updates, well wishes and pictures of pets and grandchildren to spread some seasonal cheer.