Pathways Issue 4: COVID-19 and Seniors' Health - Page 15

Dr. Martha Spencer, clinical instructor at UBC and division
head of geriatric medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, shares some
of the concerns she’s hearing from older adults and their
loved ones, and offers her advice.
What are some of the concerns
you are hearing from older adults
at this time?
Many older adults are wondering what steps they
can take to prevent catching the virus. The answer
to that is fairly straightforward: perform good hand
hygiene and practise physical distancing by staying
at home as much as possible.
Another concern I am hearing is around how long
this outbreak will last. I wish I had the answer to that
question. For now, it’s important that we all come
together, support one another and ensure we are
following public health recommendations to protect
our  communities.
What challenges are caregivers
facing and what steps should they
take to protect older adults who
they are caring for?
It’s important to recognize that many caregivers are
also facing challenges during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Caregivers are used to getting those who they care for
out of the house, bringing groceries over to them, and
having a lot of face-to-face contact, which, these days,
is not recommended.
Right now, caregivers should be focused on providing
essential services to older adults, particularly making
sure they have enough food and medication. Aside from
that, caregivers need to minimize contact and rely on
telephone or virtual methods of communication, such
as FaceTime or Skype.
What is your advice to older adults?
Firstly, it is very important for older adults to have
discussions with their family members about their
goals of care. Far  too often these conversations only
occur when people are already unwell and may not be
able to make decisions for themselves.
It’s also important to stay connected. We all need
someone to talk to during these challenging times.
What is it like being a geriatrician
on the front lines?
At St. Paul’s Hospital, we have been working very hard
to expand services and increase capacity to prepare
for the potential rise in the number of older adults with
COVID-19 who may require hospitalization.
We have really gone into “outbreak mode,” trying to
plan for what might come — and I don’t think any of
us yet know what impact COVID-19 will have on the
hospital environment and the community at large.
Based on what we know from other parts of the world,
all populations are affected, but when it comes to illness
frequency and illness severity, older adult populations,
especially the frail, are particularly vulnerable.
For me, supporting older adults is not just a
professional priority, but a personal one. I grew up as
an only child and developed a very close relationship
with my grandparents. They had an enormous
impact on my life. Now, as a geriatrician, I have the
opportunity, each day, to try and give back some of
what my grandparents gave to me.