According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a pandemic is the global spread of a disease.
It first starts with an outbreak in a local area, before becoming an epidemic when it spreads to a wider area like a country or a region.
When the epidemic spreads throughout a significant part of the world, it becomes a pandemic.
There have been many occurrences in the past that have shaken the world, the most recent being the Covid-19 pandemic declared by the WHO on March 12 (2020).
This infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus began as an outbreak last December (2019) in Wuhan, China, before escalating very quickly into an epidemic and spreading rapidly around the world in a matter of months, resulting in the current pandemic.
Although much is still unknown about the Covid-19 disease, there stands one undeniable fact amongst the ambiguity: senior citizens are the most vulnerable group of people to this disease, especially those with other underlying chronic health conditions.
Case reports from China, Italy and other countries clearly show that those aged 60 and above are more susceptible to Covid-19.
This is generally due to their weaker immune system due to age, making them more vulnerable to infectious diseases.
Senior citizens are also more likely to have other underlying medical ailments like diabetes and heart disease, which weakens their body’s ability to fight infectious diseases.
During a pandemic, older adults need the most extra care and safety precautions to help them stay safe.
The crucial point is that people need to change their routine behaviour for the next two to three months.
Most of the pointers below are applicable to everyone, but it is particularly important for senior citizens to follow them as they are at higher risk of serious complications and death from Covid-19.
Stay at home and do not go visiting.
Get neighbours or family members to help with errands that require you to leave home, e.g. grocery shopping.
If you have no one to help you, there are supermarkets that are offering specific times for only older adults to shop, so do take advantage of these sessions.
Avoid large gatherings, crowds and public transport, including taxis and e-hailing cars.
Abstain from physical contact like shaking hands or hugging.
Keep at least three feet, or about one metre, away from other people.
If you have to go out, wear a mask, avoid touching your face and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water once you return home.
As pandemics are not new to the world, several best practices for action have been recommended by the WHO.
Familiarise yourself with these guidelines, as well as those issued by the Government, and follow them.
For instance, WHO provides specific advice on how to properly wash your hands.
Do ask for assistance if you need help to properly wash your hands, due to conditions like osteoarthritis or Parkinson’s disease.
Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for 20 seconds, or clean them with alcohol-based sanitisers if they are not visibly dirty.
Do disinfect or sanitise frequently-touched items like doorknobs, railings and money.
Cancel any travel plan that has been made for the coming months.
Avoid going out to visit your children and grandchildren as well.
Social gatherings, communal prayers, religious gatherings or classes, weddings and funerals are also to be avoided as well.
Even if you are feeling perfectly well, precautions are crucial to staying safe and healthy.
With any pandemic, we should always keep up to date with the latest findings about the disease, especially how it spreads and its symptoms.
Covid-19, for instance, can be caught earlier by checking your temperature twice a day – a fever can be an early sign of the disease.
If you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, seek treatment right away.
As Covid-19 is a contagious disease, you are not only risking yourself, but also the community, by not seeking help immediately.
If you have the above symptoms, do call the Health Ministry’s helplines for the proper advice on what to do.
Some experts are recommending that older adults who are at risk, should cancel non-essential doctor appointments, including wellness visits.
This is as there is a higher chance of exposure to various infectious diseases at a hospital.
If you need to collect your regular medications, please speak with your doctor to request for an extra month or two’s worth of supply, so that you can reduce your hospital visits.
Although social distancing is the pillar of pandemic control, it could lead to social isolation, which is already a problem in the older population.
Experts suggest switching to virtual meetings with friends and relatives, with the benefits of social engagement in mind.
This is possible with video-chatting and apps like Skype and WhatsApp, and keeps you socially active without the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Establish alternate ways to communicate with family and friends, and stay socially connected.
Social distancing may affect routines in ways that can compromise the health and energy levels of the older adult.
Maintaining good habits such as healthy eating, getting quality sleep, taking your supplements and medications on time, and exercising at home or in the garden, is vitally important.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression or anxiety, it is always critical to talk to someone and seek help.
These emotions might be due to the stress and panic caused by the changes in routine and adjustments you’ve had to make during this pandemic.
These are very common feelings during a heightened period, so please seek attention for it immediately.
The Health Ministry has set up at least one Mentari centre in each state to help improve outreach to the community and re-integration of people with mental health issues, like stress and coping problems, which may be of help.
Talking to family members and close friends, who are good at listening, can also help.
Take breaks from the overwhelming fake news and stories going around on social media.
Reading repeatedly about such news can be upsetting.
Concentrate on taking care of yourself and focus on other activities at home that you enjoy.
Connect with others and talk with family and friends about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Most of all, continue doing the things that keep you happy.
Dr Suhanya Parthasarathy is the deputy director of Assessment and Learning at Perdana University and Dr Mohamad Hasif Jaafar is the university’s Research Management Centre manager. This article is courtesy of Perdana University. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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