Ottawa

How seniors can help protect themselves against COVID-19

A leading doctor in geriatric medicine is recommending seniors take social distancing seriously and consider wearing winter gloves if they have to leave the home for any reason.

Stay home as much as possible and wear gloves if you leave, geriatrician says

Elderly persons are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, which health officials now believe is likely circulating in Ottawa. (Getty Images)

A leading doctor in geriatric medicine is recommending seniors take social distancing seriously and consider wearing winter gloves if they have to leave the home for any reason.

In Ottawa, 13 people are so far confirmed to have COVID-19 and officials say it's likely circulating in the community

The coronavirus is particularly hard on adults 65 and older, those with chronic illnesses and people who are immunocompromised, Ontario's chief medical officer Dr. David Williams said Monday. 

Dr. Allen Huang, head of geriatric medicine at The Ottawa Hospital, said older adults often have underlying heart and lung disease, which can make COVID-19 particularly devastating on their health. 

"Life as usual ceased to exist probably a week and a half ago. I think everyone should be very vigilant and sensitive to all issues concerning this pandemic outbreak," he said.

Huang has not yet treated a patient with COVID-19. He has been in self-isolation since March 10 following a trip, electing to stay home to make sure he does not inadvertently pass on COVID-19 to his vulnerable patients.

'Be ultra-vigilant' if you leave

Older adults should stay home whether or not they have travelled simply because their age makes them so vulnerable. That means avoiding trips outside the home where possible and avoiding close contact with other people.

If seniors have to leave the home — such as for outings to the bank, doctor or grocery store —  Huang recommends they wear winter gloves.

"I would suggest that it's still cool enough that it doesn't look weird if you're wearing gloves all the time," he said.

"Wear gloves, sanitize your hands, be ultra-vigilant about all the public surfaces that you are touching. If you're out and about, keep your hands away from your own mouth and nose."

As older adults are often socially isolated to begin with, Huang said it's important for friends, family and neighbours to check on them and offer to help if they don't feel able to leave the home. 

"I think that the best thing we can do is talk to them at a safe distance. Phone them up as family members and friends and say, 'Is there anything I can do to help your situation?'"

Ontario has ramped up screening efforts to protect people who live in long-term care facilities, Williams said.

That includes measures to ask people 70 and older to go into isolation in their rooms in an effort to protect them from getting sick. 

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