For much of 2020, life hasn’t looked anything like what we consider “normal.” Things we used to do without a second thought—shaking a new acquaintance’s hand, going to crowded restaurants and theatres, even using public restrooms—are now off limits, or at least a source of anxiety. And, of course, we watch with trepidation as the death toll from COVID-19 in this country ticks upward.
It’s no wonder that we eagerly await the development of a vaccine that will help control the coronavirus and help us get back to something approaching normal. As with many events that cause major upheaval, however, what passes for “normal” may be forever changed. Just as we now take our shoes off and pass through metal detectors in airports in the wake of 9/11, we will grow accustomed to some of the changes COVID-19 makes in our lives. Here are some of the changes that will affect seniors in particular, even after the development of an effective vaccine.
In the past, if you called your doctor’s office for advice about even a minor symptom, you were probably told to come in for a visit before a doctor or nurse could advise you. Now, of course, COVID-19 has flipped things; many doctor’s offices want patients to visit in person only if absolutely necessary, to avoid the risk of spreading the virus.
The future of medicine is telemedicine, also known as telemed or telehealth. In the past, most doctors, especially those who specialized in older patients, did few (if any) virtual visits. Now some doctors estimate that even after a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, up to a third of their patient visits will be via telemedicine.
There are advantages to telemed visits. Older people with mobility or transportation problems may be more willing to schedule a doctor visit that doesn’t require them to leave their home. More frequent visits via computer or phone may lead to more follow-up and better overall care.
Telemedicine also means it will be easier for patients to work with a team of doctors, allowing physicians to work more efficiently and patients to get the specialized care they need. So far, it sounds like a win-win, but there’s also a downside to telemedicine.
According to the Pew Research Center, only 62% of people over the age of 75 use the internet. And less than 28% of seniors in that age group are comfortable with social media. In other words, seniors who are not comfortable with the technology may not use it—and may struggle to get the health care they need.
You may have already noticed your local drugstore offering flu shots and other vaccinations; that will only increase in the wake of COVID-19, as people try to avoid the germs they may encounter in the waiting room of a doctor’s office.
Of course, there is some health care that can’t take place through a computer screen, like getting vaccinations or providing samples. You may have already noticed your local drugstore offering flu shots and other vaccinations; that will only increase in the wake of COVID-19, as people try to avoid the germs they may encounter in the waiting room of a doctor’s office.
As for providing stool and urine samples, devices are in the works that will allow seniors, someday in the near future, to have urine and stool samples analyzed through the plumbing in their own homes.
Health care isn’t all that will change for seniors even after a COVID-19 vaccine is developed. Some of the changes we have already begun to experience will stick around. People have begun to take greater advantage of online shopping and food and grocery delivery. Expect that to continue, even after the specter of COVID-19 abates.
For those brick-and-mortar stores that survive the pandemic, expect disinfecting and hygiene practices to become a selling point, especially for health-conscious seniors. Public restrooms, currently shunned by shoppers wary of germs, will likely get overhauled, allowing for “touch-free” urinals, toilets, sinks, dispensers and even doors.
Dining out will change, too. Where possible, restaurants will space tables further apart and offer more outdoor dining if their location can accommodate it. Restaurants, like other shops, will make a point of highlighting how they clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces, perhaps hiring staff expressly for this purpose.
Many seniors spent their working years looking forward to traveling after retirement. Of course, most travel is now on hold, but when people start traveling again, it may not look like they anticipated. Instead of lengthy ocean cruises or flights to exotic (and crowded) locales, expect more seniors to travel closer to home. More people will travel to places they can drive to and choose lodging that allows them to keep their distance from others. (The desire for a change of scenery while maintaining social distance has already caused recreational vehicle (RV) sales to skyrocket during the pandemic.
Last but not least, COVID-19 will leave its fingerprints on seniors’ family lives. The impact of the virus on nursing homes may make many families more likely to try caring for their loved ones at home, rather than moving them to a long-term care facility.
At the same time, many able-bodied seniors may shy away from larger family gatherings. Awareness of the likely exposure of younger people to viruses may make seniors hesitant to spend as much time as previously in multigenerational settings, especially if they have other health issues. A family member with a cough or runny nose may be unwelcome at a get-together: is it allergies, or something contagious and potentially deadly? Young parents may also be afraid to bring their children around for fear of infecting grandma or grandpa.
The bottom line is that many seniors who depend on their extended families for socialization may find themselves more isolated than ever. Technology solutions for seniors can help people stay connected, but are no substitute for personal interactions.
If you have questions about how COVID-19 will affect your life even after the development of a vaccine, we invite you to contact our law office.