How to Practice Social Distancing

Headlines and news reports are devoted to covering coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). It’s easy to become overwhelmed and frightened, especially if you’re an older adult or have a chronic medical condition. For people in this group, the virus can be life-threatening or even fatal.

The current guidance for staying inside our homes may seem like an extreme overreaction. You may not know anyone who has actually caught the virus. Perhaps it hasn’t affected your community yet. However, public health experts such as the Centers for Disease Control say “social distancing” is essential for our personal and the public’s health. Social distancing means strictly limiting our contact with the outside world and keeping about six feet apart from other people. In fact, social distancing is the most effective action we can take to curb this potentially deadly virus.

Public health experts who have studied social distancing tell us that it works better to curb the spread of COVID-19 than even strictly enforcing quarantines. (This graphic simulation published by the Washington Post shows how well social distancing can work against the spread of an imagined virus).

“Every single reduction in the number of contacts you have each day with relatives, friends, co-workers, in school, will have a significant impact on the ability of the virus to spread in the population,” said Dr. Gerardo Chowell, chair of population health sciences at Georgia State University, to the New York Times.

Practices that can minimize the spread of COVID-19 include:

  • Practice social distancing
  • Avoid taking public transportation or making non-essential trips
  • Work from home if possible
  • Avoid social gatherings
  • Don’t patronize bars, restaurants, or movie theaters or visit places where people gather

When you must make essential trips, such as to the grocery store, pharmacy, or other public spaces:

  • Use a disinfectant wipe to cleanse anything you touch or use a tissue/napkin as a barrier
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and don’t touch your face
  • Most importantly, wash your hands vigorously and frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (sing “happy birthday” twice) as soon as you return home

How long will this last? We don’t know right now. But practicing good habits such as social distancing and careful hygiene will play a role in how well we manage to slow the spread of the virus.

Stay Empowered, Stay Informed

Five Things to Know Right Now About Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

You may have heard a lot recently about “coronavirus” or COVID-19, the virus responsible for a current global outbreak. Scientists and health experts are still learning more, but here are five things to know to keep yourself and those you care for safe and informed.

1. What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, which is a family of viruses common in humans and many different animals. Viruses in this family can cause respiratory illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Cases of COVID-19 in particular can be mild, but others can be more severe and occasionally deadly—especially for those living with other chronic health conditions.

2. Where is it?

Click here for a list of countries impacted by COVID-19.

3. What are the symptoms and what should I do if I experience them?

In general, COVID-19 causes a respiratory illness that ranges from mild to severe, though for some it can be deadly. Symptoms, which usually appear 2 to 14 days after someone gets infected, can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

If you have these symptoms, call your healthcare professional first, before visiting an office. Your healthcare professional will determine if your symptoms match COVID-19 and whether you should be tested. Also contact your healthcare professional if you have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 and/or have recently traveled to an area where COVID-19 cases have occurred.

If you develop emergency warning signs such as difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately. Let the 911 operator know that you may have COVID-19 symptoms.

4. How does it spread?

Scientists are still learning more, but coronavirus appears to spread person-to-person during close contact with someone infected, specifically from respiratory droplets when that person coughs.

It appears COVID-19 may also be able to spread on household surfaces and in the air, so it’s always best to exercise as much caution as possible while scientists learn more.

5. How can I protect myself and others?

For now, the CDC recommends that older adults or those with chronic medical conditions consider postponing travel, especially to areas impacted by COVID-19.

Additionally, the CDC recommends everyone follow these everyday practices:

  • Stay at home as much as possible and avoid crowds or poorly ventilated areas.
  • Make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water (or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol) for at least 20 seconds. Soap up and then sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice before you rinse off the soap. You should especially wash your hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; and after encountering anyone who is or may be sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If a tissue isn’t readily available, sneeze or cough into your elbow to reduce the risk of spreading infection with your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning product.

Stay Empowered, Stay Informed

Many Older Adults Face New Disabilities After Hospital Stays for Serious Illnesses

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Older adults often face new disabilities after a hospital stay for a serious illness. Among the problems they may need to adjust to are difficulties with bathing and dressing, shopping and preparing meals, and getting around inside and outside the home. These new disabilities can lead to being hospitalized again, being placed in a nursing home, and more permanent declines in well-being. The longer a serious disability lasts, the worse it can be for an older adult.

To learn more about this issue, a research team studied information about a particular group of people. They looked at individuals who were hospitalized for a medical issue but did not require critical care. The study was based on data from the Precipitating Events Project (PEP), an ongoing study of 754 people, aged 70 or older, who lived at home at the beginning of the study. At that time, the participants were not disabled and did not need assistance in four basic activities: bathing, dressing, walking inside the house, and getting out of a chair. The researchers published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Frailty Can Affect How Well Older Adults Fare Following Emergency Surgery

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Frailty is the medical term for becoming weaker or experiencing lower levels of activity/energy.  Becoming frail as we age increases our risk for poor health, falls, disability, and other serious concerns. This can be especially true for older people facing surgery, up to half of whom are classified as frail.

Studies show that frail people may have a higher risk of complications, longer hospital stays, and a higher risk for death within 30 days of their surgery. This is a special concern when frail older adults face emergency surgery for abdominal conditions such as bleeding ulcers and bowel perforations (the medical term for developing a hole in the wall of your intestines). This is because there is no time to help someone facing emergency surgery get stronger before their procedure.

Right now, experts have information on how well frail people do within 30 days of surgery. However, they don’t yet know how well frail older adults do 30 days later and beyond. This information is important so that healthcare providers can inform patients about risks and help them set expectations for recovery after surgery.

A new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society sought to gain more information about how frailty affects older adults in the months after surgery. The research team wanted to test their theory that these people would have a higher risk for death a year after surgery, have higher rates of being sent to long-term care facilities rather than to their homes, and have poorer health one year after surgery. Continue reading

Can Home-Based Physical Therapy Benefit Older Adults with Dementia?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Dementia is the leading cause of disability for more than 5 million people aged 65 and older in this country. By 2050, that number is predicted to quadruple. Dementia can cause memory, language and decision-making problems, mood changes, increased irritability, depression, and anxiety.

Dementia also can cause poor coordination as well as balance problems and falls. These difficulties can affect quality of life, reduce caregiver well-being, and increase healthcare costs.

Researchers designed a study to learn more about whether physical therapy (PT) rehabilitation services could improve dementia-associated declines. They published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers noted that we understand that physical activity and exercise programs provided by physical therapists can improve balance and reduce fall risk. However, we don’t know whether providing PT in the home could benefit people with dementia. The researchers wanted to learn whether home health PT could help older adults with dementia improve their ability to perform daily functions. These functions include activities like grooming, dressing, bathing, being able to get to and from the toilet (and being able to clean yourself properly after using the bathroom), getting from bed to a chair, walking, eating, being able to plan and prepare light meals, and being able to use the telephone. The researchers also wanted to learn what amount of home-based PT services resulted in the most improvement with these essential tasks. Continue reading