Coronavirus: charities rally to help older people in self-isolation

Support networks are springing up around the UK to help the significant number of older people who have chosen to self-isolate as a preventative measure against the coronavirus.

Age UK has changed its advice to the friends and families of older people, suggesting they should keep in contact by phone if the older person feels nervous about contracting the virus through personal contact.

In its latest advice, updated on Wednesday, the charity said it was important that older people felt supported without having their health endangered by exposure to the virus.

Map of cases in the UK

Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, said: “The coronavirus outbreak is obviously a huge worry and looks likely to be challenging for our older population, so it is more important than ever to be vigilant and look out for older friends, neighbours and relatives to make sure they’re OK.”

In Oxford, a group of therapists are setting up a free, online clinic offering emotional and practical help for vulnerable, older people who have chosen to self-isolate. The Help Hub, comprising around 20 therapists, will offer free 10-minute sessions for residents across North Oxford via Skype, FaceTime or phone.

Blenheim Palace Estate is supporting the scheme with marketing, promotion and the building of a website, which can be expanded to other areas if it gets taken up more widely.

Ruth Chaloner, a therapist and founder of the service, said: “It’ll be both a practical and an emotional community service for those who are feeling isolated, scared, and panicked by the recent outbreak of Covid-19. This is the generation that fought a war and have a ‘keep calm and carry on’ attitude. But you can dodge bombs in the war – you can’t dodge this virus and I don’t think this generation necessarily realises this.

“They think all they need to do is stay at home – and if they contract the disease, they’ll die and that’s inevitable. That’s not the case: if they’re staying at home, we can help them emotionally and practically,” she said.

Q&A

How can I protect myself from the coronavirus outbreak?

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided it is used correctly.

Justin McCurry

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She said church volunteers, taxi drivers and other people might all be willing to get involved in supporting roles.

Therapists could talk through people’s concerns and signpost the more vulnerable members of the community towards help and services as they became available.

Some older people are worried about how long they might have to self-isolate for and whether it is enough protection. Monica Else is 72 and her husband, Roger, is 77. “My husband has almost no chance of surviving the coronavirus because his immune system and lung function are both compromised by chronic leukaemia,” she said. “Will he and I both have to isolate ourselves, perhaps for many months until a vaccine is developed?

“It is terrifying. My husband is vaccinated against the seasonal flu but has no defences at all against a viral pneumonia. How can he best be protected?

“I’m really dreading self-isolation but there may come a point, if the disease becomes widespread, when we have to. Online support groups will be vital: life will have to exist on the phone and online.”

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