5 Tips for Solo Agers During Coronavirus

By Jullie Gray |

As an Aging Life Care Professional®, I speak to people regularly about their fears of contracting COVID-19. Those who are aging alone ask me questions like: Who will take care of me if I get sick? Will anyone know I need help? What services are there to support me and how can I access them?

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, almost 30% of older people are living on their own. It is natural to feel anxious about how to manage it all, especially if family members and friends aren’t available. Those who live alone at home do best if they consciously build a safety net of support and make a good self-care plan.

There are steps everyone can take to reduce their risks of developing COVID-19, marshal support, and feel confident about managing a crisis should it arise.

Here’s how:

1. Follow Public Health Guidelines – It goes without saying that everyone, not just solo agers, should follow the public health guidelines to reduce their risk of coronavirus exposure: follow physical distancing recommendations, use good hand hygiene practices, wear a mask in public and limit outings in the community.

2. Resist Social Isolation – While everyone must rigorously practice physical distancing, social isolation can cause serious harm. Researchers have found that isolation is worse for health than smoking and obesity. Make a practice of reaching out to others by phone, videoconferencing, or write letters to stay in touch. There are many virtual support forums and classes available to keep you engaged and your mind sharp.

3. Make a “go bag” – In the midst of a crisis it is normal to feel anxious. Prepare ahead with a “go bag” in case you need to leave your home unexpectedly. Preparing in advance allows you take control of your life when your thinking is clear and your nerves are steady. Contents of your bag should include:

• List of your important contacts, including your doctor
• List of your medications and medical problems
• Copy of your advanced directive and power of attorney
• Copy of your insurance cards and ID
• Cell phone/tablet plus charger
• Personal items: change of clothing, underwear, socks, glasses, hearing aids with batteries, etc.

4. If you develop worrisome symptoms – Call your doctor and ask for instructions. Your doctor can tell you if you should remain at home or call 911. Make sure you have a working thermometer at home, and if possible, purchase and use an oxygen monitor called a pulse oximeter. Let your doctor know the readings when you call. Pulse oximeters can be purchased at your local pharmacy or on-line.

5. Hire a trusted advisor – When you are facing important decisions, you want to make the best ones you can — it helps to have guidance. Consider working with an Aging Life Care Professional (sometimes called a care manager). Aging Life Care Professionals are health and human services specialists, usually with social work or nursing backgrounds. They can provide:

• Emotional support when you feel vulnerable and afraid
• Knowledge about the best resources in your area
• Access to trusted service providers so you can more easily get what you need
• Advocacy that ensures your voice is heard, and your wishes are followed
• Help with discharge planning if you are ever hospitalized

Consider scheduling a weekly check-in call to talk about how you are doing and problem solve issues that come up. Having an advisor to talk to and check in with regularly is reassuring and it holds you accountable to following your own self-care plan. You can find a qualified Aging Life Care Professional in your area at www.aginglifecare.org.

Jullie Gray, MSW, LICSW, CMC is a Principal at Aging Wisdom, a Certified Care Manager, an Aging Life Care Association member, and a Fellow of the Leadership Academy. She has over 30 years of experience in healthcare and aging. Jullie is the immediate Past President of the National Academy of Certified Care Managers and Past President of the Aging Life Care Association (2013).