COVID-19: Is It Good to Have Abuelos at Home?

Restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic may gradually loosen, countries will start opening their borders, and social and economic activities will slowly begin anew.

 But life will not be the same, warn experts. The novel virus, unknown to us until just a few months ago, is here to stay. Even when a successful preventative vaccine arrives, it will continue to circulate: the novel coronavirus is now part of the extensive family of germs that affects human beings.

COVID-19: Is It Good to Have Abuelos at Home?
Older adults have a greater risk of COVID-19. Should they continue to live with the family?

In particular, life will not be the same for our older adults and all those who suffer from a chronic condition.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has particularly affected older adults, with higher rates of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19. 

The Frightening Figures

Since the first analyses from China and Italy, to outbreaks in assisted living facilities in the United States, over-60s have suffered the epidemic’s impact in a dramatically disproportionate manner.

Statistics show that people over 60, and especially those over 80, are more susceptible to developing serious health complications if they contract the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Experts explain that the main reason may be an immune system weakened by age. In addition, the elderly are more likely to suffer from pre-existing medical conditions such as heart conditions, high blood pressure, or diabetes, which also harm the body’s ability to defend itself.

According to the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 87% of cases in China were diagnosed in people between the ages of 30 and 79. This percentage emerged from an analysis of the first 72,000 cases, which were primarily concentrated in the Wuhan region of China. 8.1% of cases occurred in people between 20 and 29 years old; 1.2% were teenagers; and 0.9% were under 9 years old.

The same investigation revealed that the mortality rate was 14.5% in people over 80, and 1.3% in people in their 50s. The figure drops even further at younger ages: 0.4% in people in their 40s, and 0.2% in 10-39s.

Although there have been differences, these initial figures from China were also seen in Italy and other parts of the world.

Latinos all under the same roof

In the face of the virus and social distancing measures, families are discussing questions like “Can our grandparents continue to live in a retirement home? Is it better to bring them home? Is it good for them to be with the whole family?”

In the Hispanic community, both in Latin America and in the United States, it is a tradition for several generations to live under the same roof, for both cultural and economic reasons. Household members can range in age from small children to people in their eighties.

According to an analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center, more than 14 million Hispanics in the United States live in multi-generational homes. This figure increased in all groups after the Great Recession of 2008, when thousands of Hispanics lost their homes because they could not pay their mortgages. 

In a difficult employment situation, abuela is often her grandchildren’s primary caregiver. And adult children are the primary caregivers for their sick parents, even with conditions that are hard to manage at home, like Alzheimer’s.

But the sense of family overcomes all these barriers and prevails. Should this continue during the COVID-19 pandemic? What about afterwards?

The advice of experts is to stay apart during the pandemic. Older adults have a greater risk of contracting the new coronavirus, and of more severe complications if they become infected.

On the other hand, although children are not the main group affected by the coronavirus, they can carry it and spread it widely, even if they don’t show any symptoms. Our grandparents may be at higher risk if they carry the baby or their young grandchild.

If possible, the ideal situation would be for grandparents to stay with a younger adult who can take care of them, in a different environment than the rest of the family.

In any event, we must always follow public health and hygiene recommendations to help stop the spread of the epidemic: Wash our hands frequently with soap and water, use masks when in public, and disinfect surfaces in the home.

Tips for children and caregivers

  • If you have parents who are older adults, the best thing you can do is to familiarize yourself with the guidelines and advice offered by organizations like the CDC.
  • Talk with your older parents about what they can and cannot do, depending on their overall health and whether or not they have pre-existing medical conditions.
  • It might be a good idea to have a conference call with your doctors, so that together you can decide what’s best.
  • As we have already said, visiting or being around grandchildren is definitely not advisable.
  • Keep in mind that these decisions may change as the pandemic evolves. 

As suggested by an AARP guide on caring for the elderly, we should remember that our family support network doesn’t always have to be in the same home.

A relative who lives nearby can help you pick up a drug from the pharmacy, and another can help with the shopping.

What should we do afterwards? 

It is essential to understand one thing: The coronavirus is here to stay. We’ll manage to overcome the pandemic and there will surely be a vaccine, but the infection, like so many others, will not disappear. 

That is why, when social distancing becomes a thing of the past and we no longer have to wear masks in public, it will be important to keep up our good hygiene habits in order to keep our grandparents, or any other family member, from getting sick. Whether from COVID-19 or from any other infection.

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