HMC issues Covid-19 prevention advice for older adults
March 21 2020 08:48 PM

* Social distancing does not mean social isolation: HMC geriatrician stresses importance of staying connected to older adults

Dr Hanadi al-Hamad, chairperson, Geriatrics and Long Term Care at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), and the National Health Strategy lead for Healthy Ageing, has said as the number of those infected with Covid-19 continues to rise worldwide, friends and family members need to support the older adults in their lives.

Dr Hanadi al-Hamad

“People who are older or who have underlying medical conditions are at risk for the most severe consequences, should they contract Covid-19. The latest data from China indicate that the great majority of reported cases there were in older people. It may seem extreme, but older adults, especially those who already have health challenges, are being urged to stay at home as much as possible,” said Dr al-Hamad.

Older adults are at risk for the most severe consequences should they contract Covid-19

“For those most at risk for severe infection, it is important that we do everything we can to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus. Simple things like frequent handwashing, avoiding crowds, limiting time in public, trying to keep a distance from others, and staying at home if we are sick, can make a big difference in reducing our risk of becoming infected, and of infecting others – including the older adults,” added Dr al-Hamad.
Dr al-Hamad said the term ‘social distancing’ is a new phrase that describes most of these behaviours and is typically the opposite of guidance given for older patients. She says the overall health benefits of social engagement for older adults are well documented but that these are extraordinary times.
“Numerous studies have found that remaining socially active as you age reduces the risk of dementia and various other health conditions. Geriatricians generally promote the benefits of social engagement and activities that prevent isolation, but these are unprecedented times. It is essential that we do everything possible to protect the health of our most vulnerable populations, and this can include staying away – especially if we are sick or have had contact with someone who is ill,” said Dr al-Hamad.
According to Dr al-Hamad, while it is essential to limit the risk of coronavirus infection among older adults, it is also important that we don’t isolate our elderly. She says technology can help prevent social isolation.
“If the older adult in your life isn’t already online, help them learn a new technology. There are dozens of online options that can be used to talk to family and friends. If your loved one isn’t tech-savvy, make it part of your routine to check in a few times each day by phone. Social distancing does not mean social isolation, and even a potentially deadly virus should not force us to be alone. Now, more than ever, people need to find smart ways to stay connected,” said Dr al-Hamad.
Dr al-Hamad noted that it is also important for families who have an older adult in their life to plan ahead, should their loved one become sick. She maintained that families and caregivers should be familiar with what medications their loved one is taking and monitor their food and medical supplies. It is also important for family members to watch for the symptoms and emergency warning signs of Covid-19.
“In adults, emergency warning signs can include fever, cough, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, and bluish lips or face. Older adults may be less likely than younger individuals to run a fever when they have an infection so if the older adult in your life has other symptoms of an infection or are feeling poorly, it is better to get checked out,” added Dr al-Hamad.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has established a dedicated website ( ) to provide the public with updates on the current situation as well as information on how to protect themselves and others from Covid-19. A hotline (16000), which is available 24 hours a day to answer Covid-19-related queries, and an educational social media campaign have also been launched, with the MoPH, HMC and Primary Health Care Corporation sharing infographics and videos through their social media channels.

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