With COVID-19 cases still rising throughout the United States, many of the families I work with are concerned about how to keep their loved ones safe and healthy. The greatest risk for severe illness from the coronavirus is among those aged 85 or older, but underlying medical conditions such as COPD, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and obesity also increase the risk.

With the holidays coming up and everyone tired of lockdowns and quarantines, I fully understand the frustrations that seniors and their families have about restrictions with visitation and socializing in general. One 82-year old gentleman I work with named Jack has family members who live out of state who haven’t visited for months because of the pandemic. Jack has heart disease and diabetes, putting him in a high-risk category.

“I don’t understand why they won’t come for Thanksgiving this year,” Jack groused when I came by for my weekly visit. “It’s not like Jamie or the grandkids are sick.”

“No, but they’re worried about traveling, and they’re concerned about not getting you sick either,” I said. I talked to Jack’s daughter on a regular basis. She too was upset that she hadn’t seen her father in a long time, but she had medical conditions of her own and was reluctant to travel. Not to mention she didn’t want her children to possibly expose Jack to the virus. They were back in school and she worried that they could become infected and not even know it.

She and I had explained this to Jack, but it wasn’t easy for him to accept. Nor was he happy that for months now, he hadn’t left the house much and had to forego the weekly poker game he and his neighbors used to have. I helped Jack set up the iPad his daughter had bought him so he could see her and his grandchildren on video calls. I encouraged Jack to stay in touch with his friends, even if they couldn’t see each other in person. It isn’t ideal, but taking precautions can literally make the difference between life and death. Wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, and washing hands frequently are especially important for seniors, who are also vulnerable to getting the flu virus this winter.

It’s a stressful time but until an effective vaccine is available and life becomes more normal, as a case manager I do whatever I can to protect my clients, including getting tested for COVID-19 every two weeks myself. I help seniors make the best of these trying circumstances and ease their isolation. More than ever before, families can benefit during this pandemic from having a case manager monitor their loved ones’ health and well-being, whether they’re living at home or in a facility.