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COVID-19 information for older Australians

14-minute read

If you have severe difficulty breathing, call triple zero (000) immediately and tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival about your recent travel history and any close contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19.

Why is the coronavirus (COVID-19) so dangerous for older people?

If you are exposed to the coronavirus (COVID-19), you are at much greater risk of serious illness if you are an older person. This risk increases if you have a chronic condition or a weakened immune system.

People 70 years of age and older, those 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions, people with weakened immune systems and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples 50 years and older with a chronic medical condition are strongly advised — for your own protection — to continue to stay at home and avoid contact with others.

Wherever possible, you should ask family, friends, neighbours or community members to shop for groceries or collect medicines for you. If you leave home to exercise, try and stay at least 1.5 metres away from others.

People living with dementia or some form of cognitive condition may be less able to follow instructions or to let others know about possible COVID-19 symptoms. This is especially so where they find it difficult to communicate verbally or to express pain and discomfort. Someone who knows the person with dementia may be able to help notice changes in their health.

It is also important to remember that most people who display symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or fatigue may be suffering from a cold, flu, allergies or other respiratory illness rather than COVID-19.

Currently, there is no specific treatment for COVID-19. However, 2 vaccines have been provisionally approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for use in Australia:

  • COMIRNATY, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people aged 16 years and older
  • COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca, the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine, for people aged 18 years and older

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine national roll-out has begun.

VACCINATIONS — Find out how COVID-19 vaccines have been developed, how they work and when you might be eligible.

I need additional healthcare services — where can I go?

Medicare-subsidised telehealth services are available to all Australians until 31 March 2021. Patients, including residents in aged care facilities, can access support from their own home using telephone or video conferencing with applications ('apps') such as FaceTime or Skype.

You can connect with GPs as well as to services for a wide range of conditions, including mental health and chronic health conditions. Patients can also access after-hours consultations and nurse practitioners.

Contact your health service provider to ask whether telehealth or phone services are available to you.

Where a face-to-face consultation is required, patients will still be able to attend appointments at primary health clinics and hospitals.

The Australian Government is also speeding up the electronic prescribing ('e-prescribing') of medicines. E-prescribing allows a doctor to prepare an electronic prescription that patients can then share with their pharmacy electronically where the pharmacy is able to support home delivery of medicines.

You can find more information on telehealth and e-prescribing in the COVID-19 National Health Plan here.

Can I get my medicines delivered to me at home?

If you are older, have a chronic health condition, are vulnerable in some other way or you are in isolation, you can have Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) medicines delivered to you at home.

You can also have your scripts filled remotely and delivered to you at home.

I can’t get a new prescription from my doctor – how do I get my usual medicines?

You can still get the medicines you need, at PBS prices, even if you can’t get a new prescription from your doctor.

Pharmacists can dispense up to one month’s supply of your usual medicine without a script. You must previously have been prescribed the medicine and the pharmacist must be satisfied it is urgently needed.

Pharmacists can also substitute dose strengths or forms of medicines without the prescribing doctor’s approval if a medicine is unavailable when they are dispensing.

I have a Home Care Package — will it change?

The services you currently receive will continue. However, there may be some changes in the way a service is delivered. For example, home care staff may limit person-to-person touch where possible, or wear masks and gloves where they may not have done previously.

If you are concerned about the way your current services are delivered or would like to make changes because of the COVID-19 crisis, please contact your provider. They may be able to arrange help with going to the shops, or arrange for your carer to shop on your behalf.

People with Home Care Packages can be flexible in how they spend their funds across the range of care and services that support them in staying safe, healthy and independent in their own homes. Meanwhile, the Australian Government will ensure home care providers have even greater support to meet the changing needs of clients during the crisis.

In an emergency, if an older Australian has fully allocated their Home Care Package, they may access short-term home support services, such as nursing, personal care and meals. Speak with your home care provider about this.

What if I need urgent assistance that my current carer cannot provide?

Older Australians who need urgent assistance can access short-term home support services, such as meals and personal care, without needing to have an aged care assessment. Assessments can also be conducted, where appropriate, using telehealth phone or video call rather than being done face-to-face. Speak with a home care provider about these options.

Which vaccinations do older people need?

The COVID-19 vaccine will be available to all Australians throughout 2021. Older Australians will be among the first to receive the vaccine in a national rollout.

While COVID-19 remains in the community, it is very important that you reduce your risk of getting other illnesses. It is important that you get the 2021 flu vaccination as soon as it is available from your GP or pharmacy.

Discuss with your doctor whether you should also have a pneumococcal vaccination against pneumonia, which is recommended for everyone over 65. You should also discuss having a shingles vaccination.

Can I still have contact with my friends and family?

The Australian Government is advising everyone to practise 'physical distancing' to help slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). If you are over the age of 70, (over 60 with a pre-existing medical condition or an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person over 50 with a pre-existing medical condition), you should continue to stay at home and avoid contact with others.

Wherever possible, you should ask family, friends, neighbours or community members to shop for groceries or collect medicines for you. You should also avoid face-to-face contact with other people, especially young children and large groups of people.

Children and young people might be carriers of the coronavirus (COVID-19) but show no symptoms, making it very difficult to tell whether it's safe for them to visit an older relative.

You should limit the number of people you have over to your home to one or two per day.

These changes may be stressful both for you and your loved ones. However, a chat over the phone, a video call or using email rather than personal visits could help stop the spread of COVID-19 and will help protect you.

The Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line provides information and support to older Australians, their families and carers. Call 1800 171 866 Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 6pm, except public holidays.

RESTRICTIONS — Use the COVID-19 Restriction Checker to find out what you can and can't do in your state or territory.

Should I continue to visit older friends and relatives?

If you are an older person, you should not be visiting other older family and friends.

People 70 years of age and older, those 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions, people with weakened immune systems and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples 50 years and older with a chronic medical condition are at higher risk of serious illness if they get the coronavirus.

You are strongly advised — for your own protection — to continue to stay at home and avoid contact with others.

It is a stressful time, and it’s important to keep in touch with your friends and relatives. You should consider keeping in touch via phone and video calls. You could even send postcards, photos or artwork, or film short videos to share. This will limit your exposure to COVID-19 as well as the chance of your accidentally spreading it to other older people.

If you regularly visit someone living with a cognitive impairment, consider other ways to maintain social contact. This will help reassure those who might feel anxious about possible changes to their day-to-day life. You can also contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.

If you have returned from overseas, have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 (including in the 48 hours before their symptoms appeared), or you have COVID-19 yourself, you must be isolated for 14 days (from your arrival in Australia if you're a returned traveller). You can't visit people and they can't visit you, but you can stay in touch by phone, video call or online.

It is important to stay up to date with — and to follow — Australian Government advice. For advice and information, go to health.gov.au.

The Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line provides information and support to older Australians, their families and carers. Call 1800 171 866 Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 6pm, except public holidays.

What should I do if I start to feel unwell?

If you start to feel unwell, phone the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 or contact your doctor (GP) who will be able to give you further advice.

Medicare-subsidised telehealth services are available to all Australians, and patients who need healthcare, including residents in aged care facilities. You can access support from your own home using telephone or video conferencing with applications ('apps') such as FaceTime or Skype.

You can connect with your GP as well as to services related to a wide range of conditions, including mental health and chronic health conditions. You can also access after-hours consultations and nurse practitioners.

Contact your health service provider to ask whether telehealth or phone services are available to you.

Even if you are feeling well, it is important to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Good hygiene and taking care when interacting with other people are the best defences, so it's important that you:

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue.
  • Dispose of tissues, immediately after they are used, into a dedicated waste bin and wash your hands straight afterwards.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating, after going to the toilet, and when you have been out in public.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitisers, if soap and water is not available.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces you have touched.
  • Stay 1.5 metres away from other people and practise other forms of 'physical distancing'.
  • If you are unwell, avoid contact with others.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the COVID-19 Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

Can I get help if I can't buy things at my local shops?

Some supermarkets have special arrangements for older people. Please contact your local supermarket directly for more information. For more advice on grocery shopping, please visit cota.org.au/covid19.

Should I be wearing a mask?

Your state or territory will decide whether you must wear a mask and under what conditions.

Not all states necessarily have the same rules, and situations change quickly so check the healthdirect Restriction Checker for the latest updates.

I received an email, SMS, or phone call about COVID-19 from someone I don't know or don't trust. Is it a scam?

Unfortunately, there have been several reports of scams related to COVID-19. For the most accurate and up-to-date information on COVID-19, please rely on Australian Government material.

If you receive a communication that you think might be a scam, delete the message. Do not open any electronic attachments, and do not click on any links. If you think someone may have accessed your financial information, contact your bank immediately.

For the most up-to-date information on scams in Australia, please visit staysmartonline.gov.au or call 1300 292 371.

Where can I go for more information and advice?

For the latest advice, information and resources, go to health.gov.au or healthdirect.gov.au/coronavirus. The phone number of your state or territory public health agency is available at health.gov.au/state-territory-contacts.

Call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080. It operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you require translating or interpreting services, call TIS National on 131 450.

For further information from COTA visit cota.org.au/covid-19, or speak to your state or territory COTA representative.

If you have concerns about your health, speak to your doctor.

Looking for more information?

Visit healthdirect's COVID-19 information hub for more answers to questions about the coronavirus, or use these COVID-19 tools and resources:

RESTRICTIONS — Use the COVID-19 Restriction Checker to find out what you can and can't do in your state or territory.

VACCINATIONS — Find out how COVID-19 vaccines have been developed, how they work and when you might be eligible.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the COVID-19 Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

Resources in other languages

COVID-19 resources in other languages are available from the Department of Health, as well as from the ACT, NSW, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic and WA health departments.

Information is also available in Aboriginal languages (NT).

The Multilingual Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line is available to provide COVID-19 information for older people from culturally diverse backgrounds. Available languages and their respective phone numbers are as follows:

  • Italian: 1800 549 844
  • Greek: 1800 549 845
  • Vietnamese: 1800 549 846
  • Mandarin: 1800 549 847
  • Cantonese: 1800 549 848
  • Arabic: 1800 549 849

The Support Line can be contacted Monday to Friday between 2pm and 5pm Melbourne time (closed on public holidays). For more information, go to picacalliance.org and click on ‘Multilingual Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line’.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2021


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