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Working Together to Protect Older Adults in Our Communities

elderly woman looking pensivly at the camera

The risk for COVID-19 rises with age. Adults age 60 years and over are at highest risk for severe illness with COVID-19 and the older you are, the more you are at risk. While much attention has focused on those living in nursing homes, many older adults live independently and face challenges of their own. Older adults often live alone and may need help with basic needs in order to stay home as much as possible and avoid close contacts at gatherings, stores and other public places.

What are some of the challenges?

For older adults, especially those who live alone and don’t have family nearby, the isolation of social distancing can have serious impacts to mental and physical health. Many older adults depend on caregivers to help them with daily activities like bathing and case managers to assist them in meeting other basic needs. If caregivers or case managers aren’t available, those who depend on them could go without food, services or other vital care.

Where can older adults turn for help?

If you or an older adult that you know in King County needs support during this challenging time, contact Community Living Connections at 206-962-8467, or toll free at 1-844-348-5464. You can also email Community Living Connections provides information and assistance accessing community resources, individual consultation and help planning for long-term care needs, and access to family caregiver support services.

What are Public Health and organizations serving older adults doing to help?

Public Health is working to quickly plan and troubleshoot how organizations can best support and protect our most vulnerable community members, in close partnership with the King County Department of Community and Human Services and the King County Area Agency on Aging (Aging and Disability Services).

We’ve also convened a task force to support older adults that includes representatives from the above agencies, other aging and disability advocacy organizations, healthcare, housing, state and local government.

Some task force members are assisting organizations that support independently living seniors in an urban apartment complex to identify ways to temporarily close congregate lunches and begin food deliveries to residential units. This supports seniors staying in their apartments as much as possible. Other organizations are coordinating regular phone calls to seniors to check in, provide information about how to stay healthy, and check on their health status. Callers also make sure that seniors’ basic needs are met.

What can other members of the community do?

Older adults need additional support right now. Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Call or e-mail older family members, friends, or neighbors to see if they need someone to get groceries or other supplies. Drop supplies on the doorstep to avoid close contact.
  • Organize checks on older neighbors within your neighborhood. This could be a daily phone call or note in their mailbox to make sure they are doing OK and to see if they need anything.
  • Help older adults feel less isolated. Call, video chat, email, or write letters to older adults in your life. However, refrain from in-person visits as much as possible to prevent potentially exposing older people to the virus.
  • Everyone in the community plays an important role by following social distancing guidance to protect older adults and other vulnerable people. It reduces the spread of COVID-19 to those most at risk for severe illness, and this also reduces the burden on the healthcare system so that those who need critical care can get it.
    • Stay home and avoid all non-essential contact with others.
    • Limit trips for groceries, gas, and other essentials.
    • If you must go out, stay at least 6 feet away from others at all times.

King County has created a website to link donors with people and organizations that need supplies and other assistance:

Contributor Mary Snodgrass is a policy analyst at Public Health—Seattle & King County, a member of their Older Adult Task Force, who works closely with the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services and Age Friendly Seattle staff.

This article originally appeared in Public Health Insider on March 23, 2020.

Posted in Advocacy