Three Lessons From Covid-19 About Aging Parents

The pandemic has changed the world and the world of aging particularly. As elders are at significantly higher risk than others for serious illness and death from Covid-19, more precautions have been in place from the beginning. Where immediate steps for extra preventive measures were not in place, deaths rapidly increased.

Even with awareness, the pandemic has been wreaking havoc in care facilities for seniors from the beginning of this monstrous crisis to the present. For example, in my county in CA, where lockdowns and stern warnings to stay home were in place before any national lockdown, 80% of our Covid-19 deaths are among people over 65. We hear about it at where we offer professional guidance and advice to those with aging loved ones. Some lessons have emerged in our advice to clients with elder issues, summarized here.

First, no matter how problematic your elder is now, the current infection rate in most communities suggests that this is not a good time to move Mom, Dad, or a grandparent to a senior facility. Put it off if you can, as long as the testing positivity rate in the senior population where they live or where you want them to move remains above 5%. Below that in any county, it is still a judgment call. The heightened risk to seniors doesn’t go away because some parts of the U.S. are doing well with downward overall trends of illness from Covid-19. By contrast, some counties and states are doing considerably worse at present.

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Second, if home care is an option and you can afford to pay the relatively high cost of a licensed provider (recommended), vet them carefully. Do this by asking questions about their Covid-19 protocols, how much personal protective equipment (“PPE”) they provide their workers, and how often all home care workers are infection tested by the employer. There is no doubt that the first cases in Seattle in a nursing home were introduced by staff working there. If you have a home care worker caring for your aging parent, be sure that this job is the only one. Otherwise, your worker can pick up or spread infection anywhere they are in close contact with elders.

Third, if the plan is to hire a home care worker independently, rather than through a licensed agency, you need to be the employer for that person, rather than your dependent elder. Even if your aging parent is paying for the care, close monitoring and supervision is essential to prevent infection and many elders are not capable of doing that supervision. Managing the legal payroll requirements with deducting taxes, paying for worker’s compensation, etc. are typically not responsibilities your elder can typically handle alone. That should fall to the adult child. The independent worker, often recommended by a relative, friend or neighbor, should not be expected to know all about what kind of mask to wear (N-95), that this is a must, and how frequently to do handwashing and observe all other public health recommended precautions. Providing that information and seeing that safe practices are followed is up to you.

We can all get through this safely if we keep the science in mind and keep the highest standards in place for aging parents.

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