Updated: Apr 4
While Australia works to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there are extra health considerations when it comes to older Australians and their ageing society. The Queensland community in Australia pulls together to help protect seniors during the coronavirus pandemic.
AN ARMY of volunteers and professionals is deployed to protect the state's senior citizens from the coronavirus pandemic, with new recruits urged to join up now.
The major community endeavour will be launched by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today to guard the health of one million seniors who have been asked to stay home to stay safe.
"Queensland's community spirit always shines through in times of crisis, as it did when the Mud Army went into action after the 2011 floods. The Care Army may operate differently because of health and safety restrictions, but the spirit and effect remain the same. Many seniors will, of course, be supported by family, but others will need volunteers and community service organisations to help them stay home and stay safe and with things such as food or medicine drops. Even something as simple as a daily telephone call can make a huge difference." she said.
COVID-19 IN COMBINATION WITH OTHER DISEASES
Older adults often have multiple diseases. In fact, 80% of people aged 75 years or above, have two or more diseases, known as multi-morbidity.
If an older adult has other diseases such as heart disease or diabetes, then they also have organ systems that are compromised.
So, when a new virus such as COVID-19 is presented to the body, the other organs also have to cope with the new disease. This means that the resilience of the entire system is diminished, putting older adults with multi-morbidities at greater mortality risk.
Looking at statistics from overseas, we know that those who contract COVID-19 and who are:
65 years and older have a four per cent mortality rate
75 years and older have an eight per cent mortality rate
85 years and older have a 15 per cent mortality rate
On top of this, for those individuals that have cardiovascular disease or diabetes, mortality risk is higher in every age group, as opposed to those without these diseases.
PROTECTING AUSSIE'S AGEING POPULATION
Standard hygiene precautions are important. Even if you are asymptotic from flu-like symptoms, practice good hygiene; wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, cough or sneeze into your elbow, don’t shake hands and most importantly if you are unwell, stay at home.
Physical distancing measures are being implemented as it’s important to ensure that older adults are not in contact with someone who is sick.
However, this can be hard for older adults, especially those who require support for their daily activities.
The downside, particularly in terms of physical distancing, is that visits from friends and family will be fewer and this may leave many older adults feeling lonely, and at greater risk of social isolation.
We know from previous studies that if you are depressed, feeling lonely or stressed, this can impact and weaken your immune system.
As the community moves through the next few weeks with COVID-19, it’s about having a balance of limited contact to stop the spread of the virus but also ensuring our ageing population are well cared for, whether it’s family or elderly neighbours.
ADVICE FOR FAMILIES
Older adults should stay home as much as possible, staying in their own environment for as long as possible. This is also true for residents living in aged-care facilities. Stay in your environment where possible; aged-care providers and government will make sure it is as safe as it can be.
If you’re worried about an ageing parent or grandparent and want to check on them, make sure you are not infected by COVID-19; prevention is paramount. If you are not feeling well, it’s simple, do not visit.
Beyond this, consider scenarios where you are unable to care for your loved ones and think about who could take care of older people. It’s about preparation at both an individual and societal level and building a network of caring options. We have to be smart; how do we care for ourselves and others in society, not just physically, but emotionally?
If you are unable to visit someone, think about other ways you can connect with them; letters, phone calls, video calls – we know that video calls and visually seeing someone you care about has a great impact on health and wellbeing.
As COVID-19 progresses, it’s important to think about the role telecommunication, technology and e-health can have to reduce social isolation and increase connection.
Australia is in a very good position as they can proactively learn from the decisions and management of COVID-19 made by other countries.
Prevention is the most important approach when it comes to protecting our aged and vulnerable population.
The preventative measures we currently have in place aim to slow the progression of COVID-19 in order to ensure that the health care system does not become overloaded.
But there are extra considerations to take into account when it comes to older Australians.
Most importantly – take care of yourself, your loved ones and your neighbours. But do it carefully.
For further information, advice can be sought from the dedicated COVID-19 Hotline: 1800 675 398.
Those willing to pitch in have been asked to register by calling the government's Community Recovery Hotline - on 1800 173 349 - which links seniors and other vulnerable people to essential services and support.
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