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Older people and COVID-19

10-minute read

If you develop symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately. Tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.

Why is COVID-19 so dangerous for older people?

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

People 70 years of age and older, especially those with a chronic medical condition or weakened immune systems 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.

Which vaccinations do older people need?

Older people should be vaccinated against COVID-19 since they're at greater risk of severe illness from the disease. The risk increases if they have a chronic condition or a weakened immune system.

BOOK YOUR VACCINATION — Use the COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic Finder to book your COVID vaccination or booster.

While COVID-19 remains in the community, it’s very important that you reduce your risk of getting other illnesses. It is important that you keep up with your 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.

Need help booking your COVID-19 vaccine appointment?

Text Hey EVA to 0481 611 382. Someone from the National Coronavirus Helpline will call you back and find you a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.

EVA (Easy Vaccine Access) is available every day from 7am to 10pm (AEST) with free interpreting assistance.

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 COVID-19.

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.
  • Wear a face mask.
  • 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.

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.

Can I still have contact with my friends and family?

There are a number of things you can do to avoid COVID-19. These include avoiding crowded enclosed spaces and large gatherings where you can't properly physically distance.

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

Children and young people might be carriers of COVID-19 but show no symptoms, making it 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 1 or 2 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.

For information on aged care support services, as well as COVID-19 restrictions and vaccines, you can call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080. You can also use this line to talk about mental health. All calls to this number are free.

If you prefer to speak in a language other than English, an interpreter can help. Call the Translating and Interpreting Service on 131 450 and ask for your language. Then you can ask the interpreter to connect you to the National Coronavirus Helpline.

For further help with your aged care services, please call the My Aged Care contact centre on 1800 200 422.

Can I get food and 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.

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.

Related topics

How to avoid COVID

How to avoid COVID

There are many ways to reduce your risk of COVID-19, including physical distancing, wearing a mask, hand washing and getting vaccinated.

Food, medicines and other essentials

Food, medicines and other essentials

Learn more here about getting medicines, food and essential supplies while isolating with COVID-19, as well as who you can reach out to for help.

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

Last reviewed: June 2022


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