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Information for older people concerned about Coronavirus

12 March, 2020
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We've compiled a Q&A for older people or for anyone who is worried about an older person. As the situation with the outbreak is very fluid and changing rapidly, we will aim to update this as often as required. However please check in with the public health authorities such as NHS, the Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland and the Department of Health, for live up to date information.

Stay at home to stop coronavirus spreading:

Everyone must stay at home to help stop the spread of coronavirus. You should only leave your house for one of the four reasons:

  • shopping for basic necessities such as food and medicine
  • one form of exercise a day 
  • any medical need or to provide help or care to a vulnerable person
  • travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home

Remember to follow social distancing at all times when outside your home by maintaining a 2 meter gap between you and other people.

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a virus that affects your lungs and airways.  Coronavirus symptoms in most people will be mild – a bit like cold or flu. They include: 

  • a cough
  • a high temperature
  • difficulty with breathing (shortness of breath) 

A few people will get worse symptoms and need medical attention. People aged over 65 and anyone living with an underlying long-term health condition is more likely to get worse symptoms.

Advice for vulnerable people:

Coronavirus can cause mild symptoms but for people older people and those with an underlying health condition, it can be more serious. People over the age of 70 are considered vulnerable, even they do not have an underlying health condition. Although everyone should be staying at home and following social distancing guidelines, vulnerable people need to be extra cautious.

If you are or know an older person who is self-isolating, there are a number of ways to help you get through this period:

  • stay in touch over the phone
  • offer to help with their shopping
  • keep active around the house or in the garden


Getting help with food and medicine:

Ask family, friends and your local community to help you use online tools such as food delivery services. The public, voluntary and community sectors are also putting provisions in place to help those who are advised to stay at home. If you receive help from health and social care providers, then this will continue as normal and they'll ensure extra precautions are taken to maintain your safety.

What to do if you are displaying symptoms:

Do not leave your home if you have either:

  • a high temperature - this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a new, continuous cough - this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)

Please do not contact or go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.  If your symptoms worsen during your home isolation or you are no better after seven days, seek medical advice by telephone.

If you have underlying health condition and develop symptoms do let your GP know.

Only phone 999 if it's an emergency.


How can I reduce my risk of getting coronavirus?

One of the most important things you can do to reduce the risk of infection is to wash your hands, frequently and thoroughly, with soap and hot water. You should wash your hands more often than you would normally.

You should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or for two rounds of the song ‘Happy Birthday’, especially when you get home after going out, before eating or handling food, and after sneezing or blowing your nose.  

You should also make sure you catch coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve – not your hands – and put used tissues in the bin. Then wash your hands.

Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.


Should I continue to travel to other countries?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) are advising residents travelling abroad, to return to the UK now if flights are still available https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus.

My relative is in a nursing home/hospital – should I stop visiting them?

Although there is no blanket ban on visits to nursing and residential homes at this stage, it's advised that visits are restricted. Homes are being encouraged to facilitate other methods of communication between residents and their families i.e. phone and video calls. 

Given the particular risks from coronavirus, hospitals and other providers have to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of patients and staff. People with underlying health problems are at particular risk, which is why hospital environments and care homes need to take particular care.  Everyone is therefore asked to follow some basic common sense guidelines:

  • Do not visit if you are unwell yourself.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after visiting and use the hand sanitiser gel provided.
  • Ask yourself if your visit is essential.  
  • One adult visitor per day only, unless in exceptional circumstances and following discussion with the ward sister or equivalent.
  • Attend outpatients either alone or only accompanied by one adult.
  • Check in advance and follow any localised arrangements which hospitals and other care settings have put in place.

Guidance for nursing and residential care homes in Northern Ireland on COVID-19 as at 17.03.2020 can be found at https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/2020-03/GUIDANCE%20FOR%20RESIDENTIAL%20CARE%20PROVIDERS%20-%20COVID19.pdf.

What steps are being put in place for older people who receive domiciliary care?

Co-ordination between care providers, trusts, informal carers and family members is critical in ensuring the the delay and potential treatment of COVID-19. All parties must plan together to ensure continuous and effective support for residents in their own homes.

If a care worker is concerned they have COVID-19, they should:

If the individual being care for has symptoms of COVID-19:

  • The risk of transmission should be minimised through safe working procedures.
  • It is strongly recommended that all domiciliary care staff, volunteers and temporary staff, and drivers delivering meals receive training and/or guidance on: a) infection prevention and control, and b) the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Public Health England has issued guidance setting out the PPE equipment that should be used when dealing with COVID-19. This is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-infection-prevention-and-control.

Guidance for domiciliary care providers in Northern Ireland on COVID-19 as at 17.03.2020 can be found at https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/2020-03/GUIDANCE%20FOR%20DOMICILIARY%20CARE%20PROVIDERS%20-%20COVID19.pdf.

I’m worried about my older relatives/neighbours. What should I do?

There are still plenty of things you can do to help:

  • The person might need shopping dropped off, medicine collected or some books left for them – ask how you can help
  • Create your own contingency/visiting plan.
  • See if people need any shopping or help by running some errands.
  • Encourage people to stay active around the house and keep moving.
  • Donate to food banks.
  • Assist older people with getting online, if possible, and providing this doesn’t cause any added distress. Many older people are already online and may just need some simple guidance on how to set up and work online facilities such as skype.  Point them to some useful resources online where they can access factual and up-to-date information.  
  • Make sure the person has access to the medication they need. Speak to their local pharmacist to make sure they will have a supply. Keep checking in to make sure they are continuing to take the right medication.
  • Check that they know who to call if they get unwell.

 Where is the best place to stay up to date?

There is a lot of information and articles online, many of which give conflicting messages which can cause confusion and panic.  The Public Health Agency (PHA) provide daily updates on the outbreak. Both the PHA and the Department of Health for Northern Ireland’s websites are updated regularly and are where you should go to for local updates. You can also visit the NHS website. The links of these websites are provided below.

Public Health Agency NI - https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus

Department of Health NI - https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/coronavirus

NHS - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/