People regularly talk with me about their fears of contracting COVID-19. Those who live alone ask me questions like: Who will take care of me if I get sick? Will anyone know I need help? What services are there to support me and how can I access them?
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, almost 30 percent of older adults age 65 and older live on their own. It is natural to feel anxious about how to manage it all, especially if family members and friends aren’t available. Those who live alone at home do best if they consciously build a safety net of support and make a good self-care plan.
- Follow public health guidelines: It goes without saying that everyone—not just solo agers—should follow public health guidelines to reduce their risk of coronavirus exposure: follow physical distancing recommendations, use good hand hygiene practices, wear a mask in public, and limit outings in the community.
- Resist social isolation: While everyone must rigorously practice physical distancing, social isolation can cause serious harm. Researchers have found that isolation is worse for health than smoking and obesity. Make a practice of reaching out to others by phone or videoconferencing, or write letters to stay in touch. There are many virtual support forums and classes available to keep you engaged and your mind sharp.
- Make a “go bag”: During a crisis, it is normal to feel anxious. Prepare ahead with a “go bag” in case you need to leave your home unexpectedly. Preparing in advance allows you take control of your life when your thinking is clear and your nerves are steady. Contents of your bag should include:
- List of your important contacts, including your doctor
- List of your medications and medical problems
- Copy of your advance directive and power of attorney
- Copy of your insurance cards and ID
- Cell phone/tablet plus charger
- Personal items: change of clothing, undergarments, socks, glasses, hearing aids with batteries, and other essential personal items
- If you develop worrisome symptoms: Call your doctor and ask for instructions. Your doctor can tell you if you should remain at home or call 911. Make sure you have a working thermometer at home and, if possible, purchase and use an oxygen monitor called a pulse oximeter. Let your doctor know the readings when you call. Pulse oximeters can be purchased at your local pharmacy or online.
- Connect with a trusted advisor: When you are facing important decisions, you want to make the best ones you can. It helps to have guidance. Consider contacting Community Living Connections or working with an Aging Life Care Professional (sometimes called a care manager). These experts are health and human services specialists, usually with social work or nursing backgrounds. They can provide:
- Emotional support when you feel vulnerable and afraid
- Knowledge about the best resources in your area
- Access to trusted service providers so you can more easily get what you need
Having a care plan in place and preparing ahead of a crisis are positive steps forward. If you do contract COVID-19 or have another type of emergency, you will have your “ducks in a row,” you can advocate for yourself more effectively, and you will know who to contact for support and resources if and when you need them.
Contributor Jullie Gray, MSW, LICSW, CMC is a principal at Aging Wisdom. She has over 30 years of experience in healthcare and aging. Jullie is the immediate past president of the National Academy of Certified Care Managers and a past president of the Aging Life Care Association.
Additional Resources recommended by Aging Wisdom
(available through Seattle Public Library and King County Library System)
- Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?: Plan Now to Safeguard Your Health and Happiness in Old Age by Joy Loverde
- Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Roadmap for Single and Childless Adults (Retirement Planning Book, Aging, Estate Planning) by Sara Zeff Geber, PhD
- Next Avenue is public media’s first and only national journalism service for America’s booming older population.
- Better Health While Aging offers practical information from a board-certified geriatrician to help address problems that often keep aging adults from enjoying better health, well-being, and independence.