5 Ways to Help Seniors Shelter-in-Place

Erica Jackson Curran

While no one is immune from the threat of COVID-19, adults over the age of 65 are at the highest risk of developing a severe illness stemming from the virus—and they may have the most to lose by ignoring experts’ advice to stay home. Even so, a global pandemic doesn’t stop the need to buy groceries, pick up prescriptions, and do other tasks outside of the home, leaving even the most self-sufficient seniors wondering how to navigate this strange new world while protecting their health.

That’s why a growing group of Team Rubicon volunteers are stepping in to support the senior community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Donna Burdett, a Greyshirt based in Panama City Beach, FL, is one volunteer helping to lead the charge. “This population group is so important to society as our keepers of history and has so much to offer,” she says. “I believe helping them, especially in this time of pandemic, is just the right thing to do.”

Ready to help some seniors in your community shelter in place? Here are five ways to get started.

1: Get the Groceries

Many grocery stores are now packed with frantic shoppers—in short, they’re not safe places for at-risk people to spend their time. And while some stores offer pick-up and delivery options, the online ordering systems can be confusing for some.

Burdett recognized the need for grocery shopping assistance in her condo community, where most of the residents are over the age of 70. “The people in my building specifically do not have a family support system here, so the job of helping them shelter in place as mandated goes to the community they choose to live in and be a part of,” she says. Burdett worked with her condo’s property manager to get her neighbors’ phone numbers, then called each one directly to offer her shopping services. Those who were interested shared their grocery lists, which Burdett then orders online, picks up at the store, and drops outside of her neighbors’ doors.

2: Assist with Healthcare Needs

Seniors’ health may depend on taking routine medications, which likely requires regular trips to the pharmacy. Some pharmacies are offering senior hours and free delivery for senior customers, and most allow approved representatives to pick up prescriptions either in-store or at the drive-through. Unnecessary doctor visits and electric procedures should be postponed, but it may be helpful to ask seniors’ care providers if they offer telemedicine in case any medical issues arise.

3: Walk the Dog

For senior dog-owners without a yard, walking the pup outside is an important daily task that is complicated by directives to stay indoors. It can still be done safely if social distancing guidelines are followed, but some seniors may just be too nervous about leaving the house, particularly in high-traffic areas. For those who need help exercising Fido, be sure to follow the 6-foot rule of social distancing when picking up their dog for a walk, and consider asking them to leave the leash outside for you so it can be a zero-contact transaction—minus the poop pickup.

4: Dig in For Yardwork

Even the most avid gardeners may find themselves avoiding the outdoors during lockdown, leaving their lawn and flowerbeds to overgrow. Give them some peace of mind by offering to trim the lawn or spend a few minutes weeding the garden. If their only view of the world is their yard, your efforts to help keep it in shape will be deeply appreciated. Another idea: Drop off a cheery flowering plant or fill dead planters with fresh flowers to perk up their spirits.

5: Lend an Ear

Social distancing shouldn’t mean social isolation—and the prospect of weeks or even months of staying at home without any human interaction can be depressing for anyone. Make yourself available to your neighbor, whether it’s a regular check-in over the back fence or a phone call to ask how they’re doing. Give them time to talk about their fears and concerns, and find out if there are any other ways you can help them get through this difficult time safely.

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