Ways to Care for Isolated Seniors
Research has shown loneliness can contribute to the development of dementia. And isolation due “social distancing” during the coronavirus pandemic may increase feelings of loneliness among seniors.
Finding ways to reduce the sense of isolation and loneliness of our patients will be an important part of managing this crisis.
Here are a few things caregivers and family members of elderly individuals should consider.
Keep Your Distance, But Keep in Touch
Face to face contact can be reassuring and reduce the sense of isolation and loneliness.
In-person visits while keeping a 5-10 foot distance from one another may be a workable accommodation. Backyard or patio visits may be best, if available. If in-person visits are not an option, online video chats offer a way to get together while remaining apart.
Connecting with seniors is important to ensure their overall well-being, too.
Check to see if they have secure food supplies. Providing information about local Meals on Wheels or similar services can be useful.
Some may benefit from reassurance that scientists and medical professionals are working on solutions, but excess false hopes should be avoided. Physicians and caregivers may also need to inform patients about the risks of home remedies or unproven therapies.
While awareness of one’s own mortality is an expected part of the aging process, some seniors have concerns about the impact on younger family members. For older individuals, the notion of outliving children or grandchildren can be terribly frightening.
While acknowledging the very real uncertainties of the times, some reassurance that this virus is generally less dangerous to the young and healthy may provide support and diminished fear.
New Ways to Provide Care
One tool available that may be new to many clinicians and patients: telemedicine.
Primary care physicians are still managing all of the health concerns of their patients but having to do so with protocols that are limiting physical visits to the office.
Plus, a virtual visit provides both medical and social benefits. A clinicians’ availability may provide an important anchor for patients in this time of anxiety and uncertainty.
CMS has greatly expanded the ability of physicians to care for patients via telemedicine. CMS has allowed telemedicine visits to all Medicare beneficiaries, not just those in rural areas, as was previously the case.
Consumer-grade video chat platforms, such as Skype, Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts, and more are now allowable, as adherence to HIPAA guidelines has been relaxed. Home visits are now reimbursable, as well.
CMS has also approved a series of temporary (G-codes) that allow brief check-ins by phone, video, secure text or patient portal (G2012). E/M visits are also allowed and reimbursed over video. Additional options include referrals to a psychologist or social worker for teletherapy.
Keep Providing Cognitive Care with BrainCheck
BrainCheck, with its at-home assessment feature, offers the tools clinicians need to care for those at risk of cognitive impairment. Clinicians can administer assessments remotely, and patients can use their own computers or iPads to take the tests.
As always, results are available immediately in the admin portal, providing overall and domain-specific scores.
Now that telehealth is available to all Medicare recipients, access to cognitive care may actually be better than before. And continuing to provide this care is just as important — if not more.