A mean in a house whole looking out the window wearing a mask.

Safety Precautions for Seniors During COVID-19

Stay Home, Stay Safe

COVID-19 has turned our lives completely upside down with nearly every country in the world implementing lockdown and other measures to prevent the spread of infection. One can hardly believe that it is only a few months since this previously unknown virus first made its appearance in Wuhan, China. We are all aware the seniors are more likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19 infection. This is particularly true if they also suffer from other chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. This is why we lay out some guidelines for safety precautions for seniors during COVID-19.

As with colds and the seasonal flu, there is no effective treatment for COVID-19 and vaccines are probably still about 18 months away. Furthermore, it is estimated that for the pandemic to run its course the virus will be with us for at least another year.

This means that, as countries ease their lockdown measures, it becomes even more important for seniors to minimize their risk of infection. In this article we will look at the steps you can take to protect yourself, including social distancing, various hygiene measures and how to boost your immune system.

How COVID-19 Spreads

Viruses are not actually live organisms but bundles of genetic material that insert themselves into live cells and then use parts if it to reproduce. This is what makes it so difficult to find effective treatments for viral infections.

A respiratory virus, like the influenza viruses and COVID-19, settles in the hosts’ respiratory tract and is then spread when the person exhales. The COVID-19 virus is exhaled together with large droplets from our respiratory tract even when we breathe, talk and laugh. However, more of the virus is spread over a greater distance with forceful exhalations like when we cough or sneeze.

You can become infected by inhaling the droplets while they are still suspended in the air. Complicating matters further is that an infected person can transmit the virus before they show symptoms and some do not even experience any symptoms.

The droplets, however, only remain in the air for a short while after which they settle on surfaces such as counters, shelves, the floor, keyboards, cell phones. Viruses can then also be transferred by hands from one surface onto another which is why frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, toilet handles and telephones are often heavily contaminated.

So, you can also become infected when you touch a contaminated surface and then transfer the virus to your mouth, nose or eyes; the virus can only enter your body via mucous membranes and not through intact skin.

The above discussion of how COVID-19 is spread explains why the measures of social distancing and wearing masks help to protect us against infection.

Preventing COVID-19 by Social Distancing and Wearing Masks

The recommendation to keep a physical distance of at least 6 feet (around 2 meters) from others is to prevent people from being infected through exhaled droplets. The same applies to the closure of places where groups of people gather.

Cloth masks do not protect you against inhaling the virus as these organisms are so small that they can pass through any weave. The recommendation for everyone to wear a mask in public helps to contain the droplets exhaled by persons who are infected.

Because we know that the virus will still be around for quite a while, citizens will still be encouraged to maintain social distancing and wear masks as lockdown is eased. As a high-risk senior you will probably be wondering what you could do or should not be doing.

What Are Some Safety Precautions for Seniors During COVID-19?

Experts say that staying at home is the safest option. They recommend that seniors carefully consider each situation logically and in terms of their own risk and make informed decisions.

Keep the recommended physical distance while visiting with family and friends. It’s safer to socialize outside on the patio or in the garden where you are more able to maintain physical distance and there is also good ventilation. Make sure to avoid hugs and cuddles.

Avoid shopping in busy centers and at peak times. If you do decide to visit a café or restaurant, select one where you can sit outside or where provision has at least been made for plenty of space between customers. A visit to your hairdresser is probably safer than a busy shopping mall, provided that you both wear masks and the number of customers in the salon is limited.

Hygiene Measures to Prevent COVID-19 Infection

When it comes to viral contamination of our hands and surfaces, there is fortunately a solution which to many of us seems too simple. Since the outbreak of the pandemic we have heard over and over again that we must wash or use sanitizer on our hands and disinfect surfaces.

Why does this work so well? Viruses, including the one responsible for COVID-19, have a lipid (fat) outer layer. Soap, sanitizers and other disinfectants destroy this fatty outer layer and therefore the virus itself. Compare trying to clean a greasy pan with just cold running water rather than with soap or another solvent, then you will get the picture as to why you need to wash with soap for at least 20 seconds.

When you are out of your own environment keep washing or sanitizing your hands and avoid touching your face. As soon as you get home, wash your hands and put your cloth mask straight in the wash. Wipe down the surfaces of the items you have bought.

If anything, the pandemic has reminded us of good hygiene practices that should always be part of our everyday lives. This will also protect you against colds, influenza and other infections in the future.

Boosting Your Immune System

The bottom line is that we can take steps to reduce our risk of infection but none of them carry a 100% guarantee. Many more people will be infected with COVID-19 and the best defense we have against becoming seriously ill is a healthy immune system.

As with the other parts of our body, our immune system also becomes less efficient as we age. This is probably the main reason why seniors are at a higher risk of a serious case of COVID-19. You can boost your immunity in the following ways.

Be Physically Active

Exercise has been shown to increase the number of circulating antibodies and T-cells which are needed to fight off invading organisms. It also decreases the level of stress hormones which can negatively impact our immune response.

Eat a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet that includes a variety of fruit and vegetables supplies our body with the nutrients it needs for the thousands of processes taking place every second. Various herbs and spices, like ginger and turmeric, have been used for centuries to reduce inflammation and boost overall health; add them to your cooking. Reduce the amount of refined sugar you consume. As few as two cans of soda have enough sugar to suppress your immune system for up to five hours.

Take Your Vitamins

Vitamin D plays a major role in the body’s immune response. There is mounting evidence that vitamin D deficiency is linked to a more severe outcome of COVID-19 and the elderly generally have low levels of vitamin D. You can take vitamin D supplements or just get out into bright sunshine for around 20 minutes every day.

Get Good Sleep

Get at least seven hours of sleep per night. Sleep is important for rebooting the body and the brain, including the immune system.

Take Charge of Your Own Health

The safety precautions for seniors during COVID-19 are essential to follow. While doctors can provide us with medicine to help relieve the symptoms of COVID-19, there is no treatment to cure the infection. Our only option is to take precautions to avoid infection and to boost our defenses against the virus.

Maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask, frequent hand cleaning and disinfecting possibly contaminated surfaces can help to prevent the virus from entering your body. Lifestyle changes to maintain a healthy immune system could protect you against serious illness if you do become infected.

Each of us can decide to take responsibility for our own health and well-being during these difficult and frightening times. Now you know about the safety precautions for seniors during COVID-19 and you can put them into use.

For more information and current updates about COVID-19, visit World Health Organization or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.