Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, health officials have been clear and consistent in their message to seniors: While anyone can fall victim to COVID-19, those who are 65 and older are in an especially high-risk group.
That’s why older Americans need to be especially careful and — in the case of the very elderly — family members may need to step in to make sure they are taking the right precautions, says Chris Orestis, the president of LifeCare Xchange and a national senior-care advocate.
“As with just about everyone, coronavirus is touching all areas of the lives of seniors, from health to finances to how they socialize,” Orestis said.
He offers a few tips on things seniors and their families can do:
Prioritize healthy practices.
Follow health guidelines. Wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and sanitize surfaces. “Social distancing and staying in place have become important new additions to our lifestyle because avoiding contact with infected people is the surest way to prevent contracting the virus,” Orestis said. “Grocery stores and retailers have set up senior-only shopping hours, and seniors should take advantage of those. In addition, food delivery services can bring takeout meals or groceries to your home.”
Trust nursing homes.
“Despite the tragic deaths that occurred at Life Care Center’s nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., the nursing home industry has been working around the clock in every community to protect their residents,” Orestis said. “Nursing homes are always vigilant for influenza, pneumonia and other viral outbreaks. If you have a loved one in a nursing home, do not go visit. Stay in touch remotely through a cellphone, computer or the staff to help the nursing home avoid contamination.”
Know what financial resources are available.
“We’ve experienced a stock market drop, but it is important at times like this to not ‘panic sell’ and lock in your losses,” Orestis said. He points out there are still safety nets and even financial opportunities that can help seniors. For example, the passage of the CARES Act will pump $2 trillion into the economy. Social Security income, Medicare and Medicaid payments remain unchanged. Income from annuities remains guaranteed.
For owners of permanent life insurance policies, Orestis said, there are a couple of options to get liquidity from this asset. If the owner wants to keep the policy in force, they can take out a policy loan for upward of 90% of the cash surrender value. If the policy owner wants to stop paying premiums, they could use a life settlement to sell the policy under tax-favorable conditions to receive a percentage of their death benefit as a lump sum today.
Beware of scams. Seniors often are prime targets of scams, and with their heightened level of distress, could be even more susceptible than usual, Orestis said. “Be on the lookout for such things as emails from impostors of the CDC asking you to open a link or download a list telling you where positive cases are in your area,” he said.
Vet your news sources.
The coronavirus is getting round-the-clock news coverage. But mixed into the information coming from reliable sources is a flood of misinformation. “Fact-check information by reading statistics from the websites of reliable medical resources and verified news organizations,” Orestis said. “Don’t fall for conflicting statistics or attempts to minimize the severity of the outbreak by comparing it to car accidents, the flu or other outbreaks. The danger is people can be lulled into underestimating the danger and let their guard down.”
“No one is sure how long this crisis will last or what the outcome could be,” Orestis said. “But the most vulnerable members of our population can protect themselves by following smart health practices, avoiding unwise financial decisions, taking advantage of financial safety nets, and being on the lookout for scams and bad information.”