When is it safe to hug an elderly loved one during COVID-19?

Over a year has passed since the coronavirus pandemic changed the way families are able to safely interact with their aging or elderly loved ones. Although the World Health Organization notes that all age groups are at risk of contracting COVID-19, the specialized agency has stressed that older people face a significant risk of developing severe illness if they contract the disease. This is due to physiological changes that come with aging and potential underlying health conditions. Yet, as vaccinations increase and restrictions are lifted, many family members have questioned if and when they can safely hug their older loved ones.

In laying out basic COVID-19 recommendations based on age, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared that people in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s. Similarly, people in their 60s or 70s are, in general, at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 50s. Following this logic, the public agency says the greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older.

This is why the CDC has stressed that older adults and others at increased risk of severe illness should take steps to protect themselves from getting COVID-19. These steps include limiting in-person interactions with others as much as possible, especially when indoors. Other ways aging and elderly adults can protect themselves from contracting the virus are practicing social distancing, keeping six feet away from others, and disinfecting shared surfaces as much as possible.

Given these recommendations, many younger and middle-aged adults with older parents have made the difficult but necessary decision to go without seeing them for weeks — if not months — during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has had mental and emotional effects on both children and parents. Strides toward herd immunity have offered a glimpse of hope during these difficult times. However, cautious family members are still asking themselves, “When is it okay to see, and even hug, my elderly parents again?”

The short answer is after elderly loved ones have been fully vaccinated. New guidance from the CDC for vaccinated people states that they can visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk of contracting severe COVID-19 disease, without wearing masks or physically distancing. 

However, vaccinated people should still continue to practice prevention measures, such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distance, when visiting people who have an increased risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who has an increased risk, as well as with unvaccinated people from multiple households. Those vaccinated should also continue to avoid medium-size and large in-person gatherings.

If both parents and children have been fully vaccinated, they can meet face-to-face again and hug without concern of COVID-19 infection. In general, Dr. Aaron Richterman, an infectious disease physician at the University of Pennsylvania, shared that two vaccinated people together is “going to be about as safe as you can get.” However, it is important to always take precautions, remember the risks, and look to credible agencies for updated information and recommendations moving forward.

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How to Manage COVID-19-Related Stress

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted everyone, including seniors and aging adults who receive support from a home care provider. Due to precautions and restrictions, many elements of everyday life have been disrupted, causing stress and anxiety. While increased vaccination efforts present a hope of life returning to normal, the need to cope with the stress of the pandemic continues into the immediate future. To help manage the stress of these circumstances, here are four tips to help overcome these feelings and remain positive:

Focus on positivity

One way to overcome the stress associated with COVID-19 isolation and abnormalities is by striving to focus solely on the positive elements of present-day life. Often, positive thinking begins with what is referred to as “self-talk.” This is the chatter that runs through a person’s head throughout all hours of the day. Transforming negative thoughts into positive thoughts begins here.

When a negative thought comes to mind, each person has the ability to stop and assess this thinking. Then, they can choose to find positivity in each situation. For example, instead of thinking about how isolating COVID-19 circumstances can feel, someone can choose to focus on the fact that they are not currently infected with the virus. Something that can help to identify positive aspects of everyday life is to create a list of things that the person is grateful for.

These strategies can greatly assist in stress management because, according to Mayo Clinic, “When your state of mind is generally optimistic, you’re better able to handle everyday stress in a more constructive way. That ability may contribute to the widely observed health benefits of positive thinking.”

Find a new hobby

Another way to mitigate COVID-19-related stress is by establishing a new hobby. This helps reallocate time — that would otherwise be spent stressing — on new sources of creativity and entertainment. Whether someone chooses to take on crafting or simply decides to dedicate time to reorganizing or cleaning their home, these actions establish a sense of fulfillment and reward. All of these activities divert one’s attention away from anxious thoughts, while potentially developing new sources of passion.

Take a deep breath or meditate

Relaxation is an important element of mindfulness. Although everyone has different relaxation preferences, learning how to become less tense or anxious can make a vast impact on overall wellness. When stress from the coronavirus begins to feel overwhelming, taking a deep breath or engaging in mediation can help someone to rid themselves of these feelings. Other ways to destress are to take a warm bath, spend time with pets, watch something comforting on TV or call a loved one.

In terms of breathing and meditation, by bringing an individual’s attention to these exercises, they can simultaneously take their mind off the anxiety. There are a number of applications today that can help accomplish this, including the Calm and Headspace apps. Calm is a software company that produces meditation products, including guided meditations and Sleep Stories. Headspace also offers guided meditation through audio sessions where one of the company’s co-creators leads listeners on a journey of contemplation.

Develop a walking routine

A fourth strategy to overcome COVID-19 stress is to incorporate exercise into a daily routine. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.

Further, the ADAA shares that scientists have found that “regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.” So a simple 20- to 30-minute walk can greatly improve one’s feelings of stress and anxiety.

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