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COVID-19: Advice for families

With COVID-19 infection rates on the rise once again, it can be a particularly worrying time for those of us who have elderly relatives. We understand this is especially true if your loved one is receiving care. With so much at stake, it’s essential you have all your key questions answered.

Getting through COVID-19 is all about everyone doing their bit. That means you, us, your loved one, and their carer. On this page, we’ve tried to map out our best advice – cutting through what’s increasingly becoming a bit of a complex area. iIf there’s anything you still have questions on, we’re here to answer your questions.

Follow these five steps to help keep your loved one safe

New COVID-19 guidance is coming into force across the UK. These important changes to the way we live are tough for all of us to adjust to.

This is especially the case because of the varied messages coming from the Government. Among this confusion, our advice couldn’t be clearer. Regardless of the tier you’re in, these five points do not change:

1

Stay in touch but replace in-person contact

It’s important your loved one is self-isolated but not socially-isolated. From now on, avoid all in-person contact. Instead set up regular phone calls or video chats between them and the rest of the family.

2

Order them a test if they show any symptoms

It can be easy to dismiss the early signs of COVID-19 as a cold. But doing so can have serious consequences. If your loved one is feeling unwell, order a home testing kit immediately.

3

Help arrange online groceries and prescriptions

Trips to the shops, especially if using public transport, significantly increase likely exposure to the virus. Help your loved one’s carer out by working with them to book online deliveries and prescriptions.

4

Increase communication with your carer

There’s never been a more important time to stay in touch with your loved one’s carer. You can provide advice on the little things, or simply get the reassurance that everything is going fine, despite the situation.

5

Encourage active living where possible

Try to encourage your loved one to get out of the house and exercise if their condition allows – even if they’re in the shielding group. It’s critical they keep at least two metres from anyone else, but staying fit can be an invaluable way for them to maintain their immune system.

Do your bit to reduce the spread of infection

We all need to do our bit to reduce the impact of COVID-19. To minimise the risk of infection, it’s important you continue to follow Government advice. Although specific guidance changes depending on your tier, there are some things that remain constant throughout the country:

Wash your hands

Sanitise or wash your hands regularly. The latter for at least 20 seconds

Cover your face

When you’re out and about, keep your face covered with a clean mask.

Keep your distance

Remain at least two metres apart from anyone not in your household at all times.

Avoid public spaces

Minimise interactions with other households, regardless of the tier you’re in.

Don’t touch your face

If you don’t have a tissue to hand, use your sleeve to prevent spread.

Catch coughs

Catch any coughs and sneezes and dispose of the tissue securely.

Download the NHS Track and Trace app. This will tell you if it’s likely you’ve been exposed to the virus.

What we’re doing to keep your loved one safe

We’ve learnt a lot from the first peak. Our team are constantly monitoring the situation and are ready to take extra measures if the situation calls for it. Currently, our approach is centred around providing clear, timely guidance, personal protective equipment and a clear policy on testing.

Personal protective equipment


We’re supply carers with masks, gloves and aprons on a regular basis. This helps reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Rigorous on testing


We’re ensuring carers displaying any COVID-19 symptoms are prevented from working and get tested immediately.

During the first peak, Elder was 83% safer than residential care. If we pull together, we can be just as resilient this time.

The tiers explained

Although our guidance is clear – for now, it’s important to be aware of the different tiers and the restrictions that each tier places you under. You can find out more information on the UK Government website here. However, here’s a basic run-through:

Tier one

The lowest tier is still categorised as medium risk. It should be taken seriously. The Government advises those shielding in tier one areas to stay safe ‘by strictly maintaining social distancing, meeting outside if possible, and keeping the number of different people they meet low.’

However, to be extra safe, it’s worth reducing all in-person contact with your loved one unless it’s absolutely essential. Below is what tier one covers, plus our extra precautions.

ActivityGovernment adviceExtra precaution
Length of restrictionsReviewed every 28 days.
Meeting peopleMeet up to six others, both indoors and outdoors, at home or in public.We’d recommend that you avoid in-person meeting. It increases the risk of infection. Try meeting online instead.
TravellingNo restrictions on travel.We recommend avoiding public transport where possible.
Staying overnightYou’re allowed to stay overnight, in a group of up to six. It doesn’t matter whether they’re from your household or not.We’d advise against gatherings with your elderly love one
WorkingWork from home if possible.It’s especially important to avoid in-person contact with your loved one if you can’t work from home.
ShoppingShops remain open, but you must wear a mask inside.Shop online where possible. Read tips on securing a slot.
Going outRestaurants, pubs, cafés and other hospitality venues remain open but close at 10pm. You can meet a group of up to six. It doesn’t matter whether they’re from your household or not.Avoid unnecessary trips to public spaces. If you do choose to go, get an outside seat where possible.
Staying fitAll gyms and sports facilities remain open.Continue to stay active. Choose activities where you can remain home or outside and socially distanced where possible.
WorshippingPlaces of worship, such as churches, mosques and synagogues can remain open.Check where your place of worship is running virtual sessions
Visiting public buildingsLibraries, community centres etc. remain open.See whether a friend or neighbour can deliver books.

It’s estimated that around 30% of people with COVID-19 have no symptoms. Just because you feel fine, it doesn’t mean the infection can’t spread.

Tier two

Tier two is for areas at ‘high risk’. This level of restrictions adds a few additional measures, mainly on meeting those not from your household indoors in public or private places.

The Government advise those in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group to keep the number of people they meet low but encourage going out for exercise.

ActivityGovernment adviceExtra precaution
Length of restrictionsLast for 28 days but reviewed every 14 days.
Meeting peopleMeet up to six others outdoors in public. But only inside if in your household or support bubble.We’d recommend that you avoid in-person meeting. It increases the risk of infection. Try meeting online instead.
TravellingTravel should be limited to when visiting work, shops or open hospitality venues.We recommend limiting all travel, especially public transport and look at home delivery.
Staying overnightYou can’t stay overnight somewhere with those outside your household or support bubble.We’d advise against meeting your elderly loved one in person, even if they’re in your support bubble – provided they have a carer.
WorkingWork from home if possible.It’s especially important to avoid in-person contact with your loved one if you can’t work from home.
ShoppingShops remain open, but you must wear a mask inside.Avoid the high-street, shop online. Read tips on securing a slot.
Going outRestaurants, pubs, cafés and other hospitality venues remain open but close at 10pm. You can meet a group of up to six in your household or bubble inside. You can meet up to six, not in your household or bubble, outside.We’d strongly advise you do not visit any hospitality venues.
Staying fitAll gyms and sports facilities remain open.Continue to stay active. Choose activities where you can remain home or outside and socially distanced where possible.
WorshippingPlaces of worship, such as churches, mosques and synagogues can remain open provided households are not mixing indoors.Check where your place of worship is running virtual sessions and practice worship at home.
Visiting public buildingsLibraries, community centres etc. remain open.See whether a friend or neighbour can deliver books. Avoid where possible.

Remember, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Although things are tough now, vaccines are rolling out.

Tier three

Tier three is for ‘very high’ risk areas. This differs from tier two largely by the fact that hospitality and leisure venues are closes – although the extent of restrictions is subject to local decision making.

The Government advise those in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group should only go outside for exercise and avoid in-person contact.

ActivityGovernment adviceExtra precaution
Length of restrictionsReviewed every 28 days.
Meeting peopleMeet up to six others outdoors in public. But only inside if in your household or support bubble.We’d recommend that you avoid in-person meeting. It increases the risk of infection. Try meeting online instead.
TravellingTravel should be limited to when visiting work, shops or open hospitality venues. You shouldn’t travel out of your local authority area.We recommend limiting all travel, especially public transport and look at home delivery.
Staying overnightYou can’t stay overnight somewhere with those outside your household or support bubble.We’d advise against meeting your elderly loved one in person, even if they’re in your support bubble – provided they have a carer.
WorkingWork from home if possible.It’s especially important to avoid in-person contact with your loved one if you can’t work from home.
ShoppingShops remain open, but you must wear a mask inside.Avoid the high-street, shop online. Read tips on securing a slot.
Going outRestaurants, pubs, cafés and other hospitality venues are subject to closure – this is something that has varied from one region to the next.Regardless of whether they’re open e’d strongly advise you do not visit any hospitality venues.
Staying fitGyms and sports facilities are open in some tier three regions and closed in others.Continue to stay active. Choose activities where you can remain home or outside and socially distanced where possible.
WorshippingPlaces of worship, such as churches, mosques and synagogues can remain open provided households are not mixing indoors.Check where your place of worship is running virtual sessions and practice worship at home.
Visiting public buildingsLibraries, community centres etc. remain open.See whether a friend or neighbour can deliver books. Avoid where possible.

Be careful. If you break to rules, the police can fine you up to £200.

Tier four

Tier four is new for ‘very high’ risk areas with an increased occurrence of the new strain of COVID-19. This goes further then tier three in that it more closely resembles lockdown. You should stay at home for all but essential activities.

The Government advise those in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group should only go outside for exercise and avoid in-person contact

ActivityGovernment adviceExtra precaution
Length of restrictionReviewed every 14 days
Meeting peopleMeet up to one person outdoors not from household. You can visit people who are in your support bubbleWe’d advise socialising online if possible and strongly advise against visiting people in-person, unless it’s completely essential.
TravellingYou must not travel unless essential and shouldn’t leave a tier four area.
Staying overnight You’re allowed to visit your support bubble and stay overnight with them. Otherwise, it’s not permitted.If you don’t need to be there in person, switch the meetup to online instead.
WorkingWork from home if possible.It’s especially important to avoid in-person contact with your loved one if you aren’t able to work from home, as you’ll be at a greater risk of spreading the infection.
ShoppingOnly essential shops remain openAvoid going to the shops where possible. Order online if you’re able to do so instead. Work with your carer to arrange grocery and prescription deliveries.
Going outRestaurants, pubs, cafés and other hospitality venues are closed.
Staying fitGyms are closed.Continue to stay active. Choose activities where you can remain home or outside and socially distanced where possible.
WorshippingPlaces of worship, such as churches, mosques and synagogues, can remain open provided households are not mixing indoors.Check where your place of worship is running virtual sessions and practice worship at home.
Visiting public buildingLibraries, community centres etc. must close, with few exceptions

Frequently asked questions

What’s the Government advice for coronavirus and the elderly?

You can find the latest guidance from the Government on COVID-19 here. The advice for the elderly is broadly the same as the rest of the population.

However, what has become clear throughout the pandemic to date, is that elderly people are more likely to show symptoms for COVID-19, more likely to be admitted to hospital and ultimately much more likely to die than younger age groups.

This of course means the disease should be taken seriously. We’re advising those we help care for to stay at home except for leaving the house for socially distanced exercise.

Self-isolating

People should self-isolate if they’re displaying any of the following symptoms until they’ve been tested:

  • you have a high temperature
  • you have a new, continuous cough
  • you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste or it’s changed

If you or your loved one takes a test and is found to test positive, self-isolation for the next 14 days is legally required under the current law.

Social distancing

For those who have no option but to leave the house, they should practice ‘social distancing.’ This means remaining at least two metres away from anyone else. This prevents potential contact with droplets that could contain the virus from causing infection.

Shielding

In the most extreme cases, the Government has called for ‘shielding’. This is a severe form of self-isolation applying to those who are categorised as ‘extremely vulnerable’. Previously, these people were ‘strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact.’

However, the advice has changed in the most recent guidance set out in October 2020. Now, shielding advice varies depending on the tier a particular region is in. The key principle of the advice is that those in ‘extremely vulnerable’ groups should limit social interaction as much as possible, especially in high-risk areas. However, they should leave their house daily for exercise.

Should the advice change, the Government has indicated that it will contact ‘extremely vulnerable’ people directly to inform them of the new changes. We’ll also endeavour to update you on this.

Personal hygiene

When it comes to personal hygiene, the advice is that washing your hands tops the agenda. This is the same when it comes to the elderly:

  • Wash hands using soap and water thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.
  • Capture coughs and sneezes in a disposable tissue, throwing it away immediately.
  • Avoid touching any part of the face, specifically your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Domestic hygiene (please see the guidance below)

Along with personal hygiene comes domestic hygiene. Here are three things you, your loved one or their carer should keep on top of:

  1. Keeping the house generally tidy. If your loved one does become infected, there may not be the opportunity to do a deep clean.
  2. Cleaning surfaces often, ideally using a bleach-based spray (depending on the surface), as this is highly effective at killing viruses. As a rule, the more a surface is touched, the more often it should be cleaned.
  3. Doing the laundry frequently, as dirty garments can hold the virus. Any dirty washing should not be shaken or disturbed, as this can release the virus into the air.

How serious is coronavirus for the elderly?

Generally, the older you are, the more serious the condition can be. Elderly people – especially those over the age of 85 – are in a higher risk category. This means COVID-19 is very serious and all advised precautions should be taken to minimise risk of infection.

Additionally, those with any pre-existing symptoms that weaken the respiratory or immune system, such as hypertension, heart disease, asthma, and diabetes face an increased risk. As do those recovering from cancer or a recent transplant.

For 85% of people who contract the virus – and the vast majority of those in higher-risk groups – the symptoms will be mild. Many may simply confuse it for a common cold or mild flu.

In total, around 15% of those infected with coronavirus go on to develop severe symptoms. These include problems with breathing, low levels of oxygen in the blood and fibrosis of the lungs. It’s very common for those experiencing complications to develop pneumonia, which is an inflammation of the lungs that can inhibit breathing.

In 5% of cases, these issues can become critical. In these circumstances, sepsis, acute respiratory distress syndrome and organ failure may be likely. These are all treated in an intensive care unit (ICU), which is why the Government is currently planning a large expansion of ICU beds.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), current figures show over 96% of the total population and 80-90% of the over 80s will make a full recovery. However, these are based on the number of confirmed cases and the number of associated deaths.

Realistically, many more people with cold-like symptoms, such as coughs and sneezes, will have had the condition without being tested for it. This means realistically, it’s likely to be closer to 99% of people who survive.

How to tell the difference between coronavirus and the flu?

One of the most difficult things about COVID-19 is identifying it when it shares so many symptoms with seasonal flu. Typically, those infected have experienced a particularly dry and continuous cough, as well as fever – identified as a temperature above 38 degrees celsius.

Those with coronavirus don’t often experience other symptoms of flu, such as headaches, vomiting and diarrhoea. Whatever symptoms your loved one is showing, it’s important they follow the Government advice of self-isolation.

How COVID-19 compares to some of the common conditions with similar symptoms.

How do you treat COVID-19 in the elderly?

If you’re displaying any symptoms of COVID-19, the first thing to do is get a test. You can get this delivered to your home. You should self-isolate until you receive the results. If you test positive, you should self-isolate for 14 days.

If symptoms are minor, as they are for the vast majority of people, the NHS recommends those familiar, common-sense measures we often take when we’re feeling under the weather. These include getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of water and using over-the-counter painkillers if required.

Bear in mind, if your loved one’s condition deteriorates – such as them having breathing difficulties – or symptoms don’t go away within seven days, you should call the NHS on 111. They’ll advise on how to proceed.

Beyond treatment, it’s also really important to ensure your loved one does their bit to prevent the spread of infection – by removing themself from any unnecessary social contact and staying indoors. Of course, that also means maintaining good personal hygiene.

How do you get a test for COVID-19?

You get a test by visiting the NHS website and ordering a home testing kit. This should arrive within 48 hours. You should only get a free NHS test if at least one of the following applies:

  • you have a high temperature
  • you have a new, continuous cough
  • you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste or it’s changed
  • you’ve been asked to by a local council
  • you’re taking part in a government pilot project

The COVID-19 test is a swab kit. The results are ready within 72 hours. This can be taken in hospital, in a specialist drive-through testing clinic or coronavirus testing pod. However, if you feel your loved one needs to be tested, they should – under no circumstances – just turn up. All testing is done by appointment, following a call to 111.

Despite criticism, the UK is already testing many more potential coronavirus patients than many other European nations and has recently committed to testing up to 10,000 every day.

Efforts are ongoing to create tests that can deliver results at the ‘bed-side’ and, separately, tests to reveal whether someone has built up immunity to the virus.

Should elderly people stay home and self-isolate?

Ultimately, the Government guidance depends on the tier of the area you’re in and the level of risk. However, regardless of the tier you’re in, our advice is the same. Your loved one should take COVID-19 seriously. We would advise:

  • Avoiding trips to public spaces such as cafes, shops and pharmacies. Instead, they should have someone else go and drop supplies off in a secure place for them to collect or order online.
  • Avoiding face-to-face contact with people unless absolutely necessary – replacing it with technology where possible.
  • Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or hand sanitizer if that’s not possible.
  • Throwing away any used tissues securely.

Ultimately, the risk of harm from social isolation is also significant and shouldn’t be underestimated – and this is a key lesson from the first peak. It’s important that elderly people are in regular contact with a reliable support network, both to stave off any feelings of loneliness/depression and to ensure their wellbeing is monitored.

Is it still safe to visit them?

We strongly advise you don’t visit your loved one. Don’t meet them in-person however tempting it is. The evidence from the first wave could not be clearer – staying away saves lives.

However, self-isolation shouldn’t mean social isolation. In fact, you should be more proactive than ever in terms of keeping in touch with your loved one.

Of course, in certain circumstances, it’s unavoidable. However, when doing so you should undertake all precautions in terms of personal hygiene:

  1. Remove outer garments, such as your coat and shoes, immediately upon arrival.
  2. Maintain a distance of at least two metres (where possible) from your relative.
  3. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before, during and after your visit.

Prof William Keevil, Professor of Environmental Healthcare, University of Southampton says that ultimately ‘the longer the stay the greater the potential risk to your host.’ So, try and keep the time you’re visiting to a minimum and largely to ensure they’re ok.

Set up regular routines in which you communicate via telephone or video call. If you’re able to, it could be a good idea to buy your loved one a tablet or mobile device to encourage more frequent communication. This will help reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness.

Should they still go to the doctors?

Yes, your loved one should still visit their GP surgery if there’s a clear need to do so. The Government is actively encouraging people to visit their doctor as normal. This may change if the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase.

How do I prepare for a second lockdown?

As with anything, minimising health risks associated with coronavirus – and any lockdowns – is all about planning ahead. This means you need to make sure there’s someone close at hand to help your loved one in the event of them contracting the virus. Here are some important areas for which it’s best to think ahead:

Essential errands: Whether it’s you, a professional carer – or even a neighbour – someone needs to be able to run errands, such as grocery shopping and the collection of prescriptions. They’re allowed under the lockdown measure as it’s an important way of reducing the chances of the elderly contracting the virus. Face-to-face contact should still be avoided, these can be left in a secure place for their collection.

Plan a routine: As frustrating as a lockdown is, it shouldn’t mean completely letting go of physical activity. You should chat with your loved one about adding physical elements in their daily life – even if it’s just a walk around the garden.

Communication: As it’s wise to limit face-to-face contact, you should put a plan in place to communicate with your loved one on a frequent basis via telephone or video call. A good way of doing this is establishing a regular routine. You should also encourage the rest of the family to do the same. This will reduce feelings of isolation and mean your family picks up on any symptoms faster. As mentioned above, enabling regular, remote communication more easily with a tablet could be a good idea.

Where can I find the latest information and advice regarding COVID-19?

The positions of the UK nations are increasingly different from one another. To find out more the latest guidance for your area, you should check with the NHS and health executive for your nation of the UK. These will offer you the most relevant information:

To track the progress of the global pandemic, and get useful summaries of the latest research, visit the World Health Organisation website. This is the United Nations agency responsible for global public health.

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