Supporting older people during COVID-19

Social connection and practical support are always important for the wellbeing of older people, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are more important than ever.

Older people make up a significant proportion of Australia’s population. And as well as being at greater risk of serious illness if they have COVID-19, some are at increased risk of becoming isolated and vulnerable while physical distancing restrictions continue.

For those who live alone, are on a fixed income, can no longer get around independently, or have undiagnosed or poorly managed mental health conditions, regular and reliable support is vital.

Here, we look at some of the ways you can support older people, from family to friends, colleagues to neighbours.

Provide social and practical support

It’s important to check in with the older people in your life in a way – and frequency – that they are most comfortable with, whether that’s a phone call, a text, an email, a note at their door or a chat (from an appropriate distance) over the fence.

The key is to let them know they are in your thoughts, that you always have time for a chat and that they can ask if they need anything.

In terms of practical support, a good start is to ask and discuss with them how they would like you to help. This may be by shopping for food and other essentials they need or helping them set up a weekly delivery of groceries.

Also, provided you follow good food safety practices, consider offering to extra food when making meals for yourself and leaving it at their front door at a time that suits them.

When making an offer to help, make sure to do so in a way that acknowledges their independence and shows respect for their experience and decision-making. Value the wisdom they have likely gained through times of significant stress or hardship, and call on that wisdom when looking for solutions to a problem, for they may have ideas that you haven’t considered.

Help them stay connected

Maintaining social connection and staying in touch is critical to our wellbeing.

For some older people, understanding the technology that allows them to do so can be a challenge in itself.

The Be Connected website offers helpful resources designed to help older Australians develop digital and online skills, while this page provides a range of useful tips for older people around staying safe online.

Think about sending them (trusted) links to things they may enjoy, such as online crosswords and puzzles, music, theatre or sport recordings, or virtual tours of museums and other popular tourist destinations.

Keeping entertained and connected will help older adults manage the frustration they may be feeling as a result of losing their normal routine, while chatting with family and friends will help lower the risk of them feeling low and lonely.

Share good-quality, reliable and up-to-date information

Now is an uncertain and unsettling time, and accessing important, reliable, and current information can provide perspective and help older adults feel more in control of their situation.

In terms of the help that is available to them:

Assist with healthcare needs

If the older people you’re supporting needs help with getting medicines, you could make the trip to the chemist yourself, or help them arrange for the pharmacy to deliver them.

You can download information about the home medicines service here. This service provides a free, contactless monthly delivery of prescription medication for older and vulnerable Australians.

When it comes to medical appointments, all Australians now have greatly improved access to bulk-billed telehealth services – meaning consultations will take place over the phone, or via video chat. If they need help with this, encourage them to talk with their GP about how they can set these up.

Should the older person urgently need an in-person evaluation, phone ahead for them, report symptoms and ask for instructions regarding next steps.

A range of support options

There’s been a lot of change recently, and it’s natural for people to be feeling lonely, overwhelmed or even completely out of their depth. If it seems someone you know or support is unsure about how to cope, or who to turn to, we encourage you to download and print this handy PDF flyer for them. It lists some of the resources and services available to help older people manage their mental health during these challenging times.

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