PUBLIC health and ageing specialist at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Denise Eldemire-Shearer has cautioned against uprooting seniors from their family setting and placing them in care facilities at this time.
“I would not put anybody new in a nursing home at this point in time, not only because of COVID-19 but [because] moving into a nursing home is [a] traumatic activity for an older person… You don’t want to have two traumas at the same time, so hold on and wait,” Eldemire-Shearer advised on Sunday, while speaking at a teleconference dubbed ‘COVID-19: Approaching Code Red’ hosted by The UWI.
She, in the meantime, said stringent measures have to be employed to safeguard seniors already in nursing homes, while still catering to their need for social interaction amid social distancing requirements.
“You would have seen where some of the nursing homes in America have allowed persons to look through the windows and to have conversations, but most of the nursing homes I have been to here — both public and private — are kinda closed in, there is no sort of outside window… One of the things that could be done, many of them do have verandahs, so for, well, older people, you could bring them to the verandah and socially distance,” Eldemire-Shearer suggested.
She said, too, that measures taken with staff at these care facilities must be “very stringent”.
“Temperatures need to be done going in every morning and at shift changes. They have to wear masks and they have to use gloves. We have to think about personal protective equipment for the local government staff, for the public infirmaries, as well as private nursing homes.
“The washing of hands is critical — not every nursing home has a basin in every room and, therefore, the issue of making sure every bed has a bottle of sanitiser beside it [is necessary],” she insisted.
In assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the older population, the professor of public health and ageing urged relatives to develop routines for seniors that can replace their normal patterns prior to the infectious disease reaching the island’s shores.
“Eighty-eight per cent of our older people are fine, they are physically and mentally able. We actually only have eight per cent who are dependent (based on a 2012 study of older people), so most older people have got used to making life for themselves and we are now taking that away from them, so we need to make the suggestions as to what else,” Eldemire-Shearer noted.
She said, given that churches, which had been a major point of social interaction for seniors, have had to close their doors, family members should assist the elderly in locating broadcast services.
“Church is a big thing, so find church on the radio for them. Family will have to step up. One of the gifts you can give to an older person is find their church service for them, find which channel [and] mark it,” she advised.
She also urged individuals who care for people suffering from dementia to try to understand the plight of those affected.
“There is about 40 to 50,000 of them, they have difficulty understanding all this information and facts. What they know is that their life has [been] turned upside down. They used to take walks outside [and] suddenly they are being told to stay at home. They may have difficulty remembering and understanding safeguarding guidelines. They will certainly ignore the warnings — they are not going to self-quarantine and they are not going to isolate — and families are going to get very frustrated because you are telling this person to stay inside and they are going outside,” she explained.
Seniors comprise 12 to 13 per cent of the population in the Caribbean. COVID-19, which has so far infected more than 2.5 million people worldwide, has been fatal for 13.4 per cent of patients 80 and over compared to only 1.25 per cent in their 50s, and 0.3 per cent of people in their 40s.
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