Supporting the elderly and vulnerable during the coronavirus outbreak

If you have friends or loved ones who are classed as vulnerable, don’t underestimate how much your support could help them through isolation.

This is a difficult time for everyone, no matter their circumstances. However, it is likely that some of the worst affected will be those people classed by the government as particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

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People aged 70 and over, people with underlying health conditions and pregnant women (over 28 weeks) have all been placed in this category by the government. They have been advised to be particularly stringent with their social distancing measures, and many of them have either been directly advised or have taken the decision to self-isolate for 12 weeks.

While the purpose of this isolation is to protect vulnerable members of society, it is nonetheless a tough reality to face.

Not leaving the house can pose serious practical challenges, not to mention the impact it can have on a person’s mental health.

Isolation separates people from social interaction and from their loved ones. These things can heighten feelings of loneliness and anxiety at the best of times, even without a global pandemic.

If your friends or family, or even your neighbours, fall into the vulnerable category, it’s more important than ever to make sure they feel connected and supported right now.

Keep in touch

During isolation, people are likely to feel more lonely than usual, so make a concerted effort to stay in touch.

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These days, even most older people have access to a computer or smartphone, so prioritise video calls wherever possible. Seeing someone can boost your mood more than a voice call. Though of course if you can’t video call, hearing your voice will still cheer them up!

Regular contact will provide much-needed social interaction as well as reassurance and make your loved ones – and you – feel a bit more normal.

Isolation may heighten feelings of stress and anxiety, so do offer your support if your loved ones want to talk about the pandemic. News is constant and they may be worrying a lot. Be reassuring and sympathetic, but discourage them from dwelling on things they can’t control.

Encourage exercise and fresh air

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Lack of movement can damage not only our physical but also our mental health, and this is true whatever your age. Try to encourage older people to stay physically active as much as possible while staying at home.

Cooking, cleaning and gardening are all ways to stay active that may not feel like exercise. There are also countless fitness videos online tailored to older audiences, including some that don’t even require you to leave your chair!

If your loved one is lucky enough to have a garden or balcony, encourage them to go outside, get fresh air and interact with nature. If they have limited mobility or don’t have access to outside space, suggest sitting under an open window to feel the sunshine and fresh air. This can boost someone's mood more than you would think.

Support their hobbies and interests

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Having fun and keeping your mind busy, engaging with tasks that require your active attention, protects against loneliness and can boost overall wellbeing. This makes hobbies really important during isolation.

Ask your loved ones about the hobbies they enjoy and, where possible, help them to continue with them. Make sure they have the resources they need and encourage them to keep going.

If you have a keen knitter or crafter, make sure they have supplies. If they’re a crossword whizz, help them set up a subscription. Books, newspapers and puzzle books are all simple ways to make a difference.

Not all hobbies are possible indoors, but with a little creative thinking it should be perfectly possible to set everyone up with at least one enjoyable pastime to embrace during isolation.

Offer to help

There are many things you can do to help vulnerable and elderly people, including:

  • Picking up groceries or other essentials
  • Making sure they have the medication they need and offering to help them get it if not (whether picking it up yourself or arranging for a delivery)
  • Running errands such as posting letters or walking their dog
  • Sourcing entertainment, from books and DVDs to hobby supplies
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Many people are fiercely independent and reluctant to ask for help even if they really need it. Don’t wait for them to ask, but instead offer your help.

If they say no, offer again after a few days. You could try framing it as something you want to do in order to feel helpful.

Or you could say you are going to the shops anyway and would they like anything while you’re there?

Remember, you should still be socially distancing from anyone who doesn't live in your household, and this includes any vulnerable people you’re helping. Leave shopping bags on their doorstep or in another safe place.

Volunteering

If you are interested in volunteering to support the elderly or vulnerable, the National Care Force is looking for people across the UK who can donate a little time to help others.

You can sign in to help with various activities, including dropping off shopping, delivery driving and cooking lunch for people.

The NHS Volunteer responders programme received so many volunteers that it has temporarily closed in order to process applications, but keep an eye on it as the plan is to open it again.

And you’ll find more information on how you can help others on the NCVO’s Volunteering and Coronavirus page.

To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337

or make an online enquiry.

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