Protecting Elders in a Pandemic World

. This article originally appeared on The Atlanta Voice.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, two of the first regulations from the World Health Organization (WHO) were self-quarantining and social distancing.

As many of us did our best to stay six feet away from each other in grocery stores, jobs, walking the streets, that new regulation affected our abilities to care and watch over our aging population at home and in elder care facilities leaving them vulnerable to the evils of elder abuse.

Many videos surfaced on social media of creative ways families kept in contact with nursing home residents. They chatted on cell phones while seeing them through windows, yelling out of windows even dancing in parking lots to share smiles. However, in the case of elders who aren’t mobile, bedridden, are unable to speak and many other scenarios, options were extremely limited.

Karyne Jones, President and CEO of the National Caucus and Center on Black Aging expressed the importance of being able to lay eyes on loved ones living in nursing homes to ensure their safety and wellbeing. “We had to ask [facility leaders] to make arrangements where it’s still social distancing and people are required to wear masks and no one can come in the facility without a mask, take temperature[s] and be within eyesight of that loved one.”

Karyne Jones

The NCCBA are the only national organization devoted solely to providing effective leadership in making minority participation in aging services a national issue and priority.

Samantha Wallace and her mother, Carolyn, tap into their knowledge, instincts and awareness of her grandmother and grandfather’s relationship and communication abilities to determine their wellbeing on the phone. Samantha has developed a keen eye and ear to detect distress in their voices. Carolyn has focused on communicating and building relationships with the nurses and staff on their floor in the nursing home to stay abreast of what happens with her parents.

The nursing home that they’ve entrusted their loved ones regularly sends notifications regarding COVID-19 cases and any updates in regulations that are created to keep residents safe and healthy. A comprehensive list of nursing home COVID-19 regulations is on aarp.org including a list of homes that are or are not following rules.

Many facilities are doing their best to keep residents safe however, the aging population that is being cared for at home face their own unique challenges. The American Senior Communities shared a study from the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) that states, “…more than 43.5 million adults in the United States who have provided unpaid care to an adult or child within the last year. 34.2 of these Americans provide care to an adult age 50 or over.”

Helping an elder takes knowledge, support and patience and thankfully resources for caretakers can be found online, in hospitals and organizations that assist caretakers in finding help such as on helpguide.org where it also has an outlet and how-to for abuse reporting.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 60 percent of elder abuse is at the hands of a family member, according to a report in the Psychiatric Times. The familial abuse usually comes due to financial distress due to job loss, stress in the home due to self-quarantining, challenges of caretaking and other strains.

Caregiving is a stressful, necessary job that many are not emotionally, financially, physically or mentally equipped to take on. If the elder suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s, the severity of the situation can increase due to communication complexities.

The Wallace’s tried caretaking for their elder family members on their own for many years but as Samantha’s grandparents aged, the needs and care resistance increased which is common within the aging population as dementia and Alzheimer’s progresses. Another issue was finding the funding for care facilities.

Many in the African American communities lived on wages that did not equal white counterparts leaving them vulnerable as elders and their savings low.

The 2019 Profile of Older Americans published in May 2020 by the Administration on Aging (AoA), found that the 85-and-older population of African Americans make up 18.9 percent of the poverty in the United States compared with 7.3 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 11.7 percent of Asians. In addition, Forbes Magazine reported that in 2019 that 14.9 percent of African Americans earned lower wages than Whites.

The elderly population is among the most fragile members of society, and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the disparities between African American communities and others.

This article was written with the support of a journalism fellowship from The Gerontological Society of America, The Journalists Network on Generations, and The Commonwealth Fund.

Sidebar information

To get additional help:

  • AARP Coronavirus Tele-Town Halls are available on the website along with a State-by-state list of Coronavirus-Related Restrictions
  • Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116
  • Find local resources at the National Center on Elder Abuse website, ncea.acl.gov

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.