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August 20, 2020

Navigating the New Normal: More Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19

The AARP recently held a teletownhall with experts to discuss new COVID-19 developments. Here are a few of the frequently asked questions from that event: 

Cases are spiking around the country. Why? And what can older adults do to stay safe?

Part of what we see as a surge is just ongoing spread, said Dr. Steven Johnson, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. This is a result of complacency and the reopening of things, he explained. He also noted that he feels we are still in the initial wave of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Older adults can continue to protect themselves by practicing social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands when returning from a public place and limiting contact with crowds, especially those indoors. 

What should I do if I need to provide care for a family member or my family member who needs care has lost that care as a result of COVID-19?

If you or a family member need care, you can check with your local area agency on aging. Kendal at Home also provides home care services. Before someone enters your home to provide care, ask them if they’ve been experiencing symptoms or have been around anyone who has been ill. If they have, do not let them inside your home.

If a caregiver is healthy and provides care, be sure they continue to wear a mask while inside your home. Also, frequently disinfect high-touch areas in your home or areas they would frequently touch like doorknobs and faucet handles. 

In addition to your area agency on aging, you can call the eldercare locator at 1-800-677-1116 or visit eldercare.acl.gov.

What’s the latest on a potential vaccine and treatments?

There are two types of medicine being evaluated, said Dr. Johnson. Scientists are examining medication that inhibits the growth of the virus and a medication that may alter the amount of inflammation the body responds with when infected with COVID-19. 

“In terms of treatments we know of anti-inflammatory medication, a steroid called dexamethasone, and that has been shown at a very large British trial to be associated with a reduced death rate among individuals who require oxygen support, including those on a ventilator. And there are many other medications in that category that are being studied. In terms of the inhibition of the virus itself, there is a medication called remdesivir, that is not FDA approved, but has been made available to hospitals by the FDA through a process called the emergency use authorization. And that drug has also shown clinical improvement in people that are hospitalized with COVID-19. So those are two medications that tend to be given to most people who are hospitalized with COVID-19, and we expect this list of therapeutics to grow over time,” said Dr. Johnson.

As for vaccines, Dr. Johnson reports there are a few options already in Phase 3 trials to test effectiveness. 

“The fact of trying to have an effective vaccine this fall I think is incredibly optimistic but I do think, you know, early 2021 or sometime during that year is realistic. The final caveat I would say is that not all vaccine trials are successful. So you may go through a large trial and have the vaccine be ineffective, and you have to proceed to the next candidate,” he said.

How can I prevent social isolation and loneliness if I live alone and have been staying home?

Even though you may find yourself more isolated than usual, that doesn’t mean you have to withdraw, explained Donna Benton, Ph.D., director of the Family Caregiving Center at the University of Southern California.

“We may have to find new outlets for expression to keep ourselves from becoming lonely or isolated. So, for example, there are new phone programs that, where before we didn’t have as many people doing volunteer calling every day, and maybe this is the time to accept and reach out and say, you know what, I heard about this phone-calling program, and they’re actually almost in every state, I’d like someone to call me once or twice a week,” she said.

Dr. Benton also notes that it’s not abnormal for you to feel isolated or depressed when your way of doing things has changed. If you do feel down, Dr. Benton suggests first acknowledging your feelings and then reaching out for support. This can be a virtual happy hour with friends, a virtual book club or maybe even just a recurring time to chat with each other. And if you do have conversations, Dr. Benton says, try to avoid talking about the coronavirus if you can.

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