The life changes we’ve all had to make because of the coronavirus have been hard on everyone. But the groups that are most at risk have been hit especially hard. As restrictions lift for many of us, seniors are still stuck at home. Some seniors in retirement communities are still living under lockdown.

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Dr. Alicia Brooks

So, how can they stay healthy, fit and connected? Dr. Alicia Brooks of Novant Health Salem Family Medicine offers some advice. Nearly 50% of her patients are 60 and older. Whether you’re 80 or, 65, her advice will help you make smart choices. Even if you’re simply an adult who checks in on their parents or neighbor, this advice is for you, too.

And remember: movement, even of the gentle variety, helps reduce the risk of falls in older adults.  

What questions are your older patients asking you the most?

“Can I see my family?” and “Should I go to the doctor’s office?” are the two biggest ones. My answer to the first one is: It depends on how high risk you are and they are. If they’re masking and washing hands frequently, have limited their contact with others and don’t have symptoms, a visit should be fine. But everyone should be masked and stay 6 feet apart. If your family has had lots of potential exposure, it’s probably best to avoid in-person visiting for now.

If you can visit with them outside and stay distanced, the risk of infection is probably very low.

And what about going to the doctor?

At Novant Health, we are going to extreme lengths to keep our facilities clean. Everyone – staff and patients – has to wear a mask. We’re taking all appropriate safety measures. A doctor’s office is probably the safest place you can be now. But we’re also “seeing” patients online and by phone. For patients who have respiratory issues and fever, we may even see them in their car in our parking lot.

I am emphasizing to my patients that they should not delay seeking care for a chronic condition because of COVID-19 fears.

Think you need medical care? Don’t delay.

Act now

Do you have older patients who’ve had telehealth appointments with you? How’s that going?

Yes! I did an annual wellness visit with a 90-year-old patient online. Her son, who’s in his 70s, helped her get Zoom set up.

I’ve been telling patients: If you’re willing to work through potential technical issues on your end, my staff can help get you connected. For some people, it takes patience and persistence. But if you do it once, you’re set up to do it repeatedly. We’ve had great success with it.

If you’re not tech savvy or don’t have a computer, we can also do telephone visits. And if telehealth isn’t adequate – if there’s an issue we need to see you in person for – we’re going to bring you in and take good care of you.

If you're not ready to rush back to the gym, what can boomers and seniors do to stay active at home?

If they’re tech savvy, there are thousands of free workout videos they can access on YouTube. Just search for gentle yoga, chair exercises or stretching.

If you have weights at home, use them. If you don’t, soup cans can serve the same purpose. You can lift those as if they’re weights.

If you don’t have a computer but you do have a DVD player, look into getting exercise videos at your local library. A lot of libraries are offering curbside pickup. Yoga and meditation both offer stress relief, which is so important now.

At our office, we have a handout with drawings and instructions on exercises that are easy to do at home.

If you’re the adult child of parents who are locked down now, what can you do for them? Especially from afar?

Call, and call regularly. Get into a routine so your parents know what days they can expect a call. FaceTime and Zoom are great if you know how to use them.

Send care packages. Order grocery or meal delivery. That’s about so much more than just the food. It’s about showing someone they’re loved and cared for.

The TV can ordinarily be a good companion. But the news is so depressing these days.

Right. I’ve had several patients tell me they’ve turned the news off recently and that it’s made a difference in their mood. They turn the TV on to get the weather but then turn it off right away. TV is not necessarily a good friend at this point – unless you have a streaming service and can control what you watch. Something like a reality baking show would be kind of comforting.

Any sense for when this will be over?

It’s really hard to predict. We’ll have to see what the fall brings and how bad flu season is. I know it’s hard to still be holed up at home, but older people – those who are most at risk – need to be the most careful.

Anything you want to add?

I want to remind people to eat healthy meals. We all should be eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and limiting processed food. What you eat has a bearing on how you feel.

 Questions about falls and other concerns related to aging? The Centralina Area Agency on Aging is a good place to start.