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The coronavirus pandemic has brought forward the time for looking after your parents, as they probably belong to one of the groups at risk from this health emergency.

Elderly people need special care and attention because they may have chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, or lung disease, which would worsen their health if they caught COVID-19.

To reduce this risk, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that elderly people stay at home, wash their hands frequently, and keep two meters away from other people.

Tec Review asked a group of specialists to share their recommendations on diet, hygiene, and mental health to keep the elderly free from disease during this quarantine:

A balanced diet

You get healthy through a proper diet, which includes five portions of fruit and vegetables per day and low amounts of fat and sugar.

“To encourage a healthy gut microbiota, we need to limit consumption of processed foods, above all those which are high in sugar and fat, because they provide food for the so-called bad bacteria,” says Leonardo Martínez Rodríguez, a specialist in gastroenterology and digestive endoscopy at the Clinic of Metabolic, Digestive, and Hepatic Rehabilitation.

For the elderly and the family as a whole, Martínez recommends a Mediterranean diet, which is based on food of plant origin, chiefly raw or cooked vegetables, fruit, legumes, peanuts, nuts, fats of plant origin, yogurt, and white meat.

“Isolation makes us more prone to stress and we sometimes mitigate this by eating. We tend to eat badly, which means we eat more junk food with a lot of calories but not many nutrients. As we’re spending more time at home, we should eat our meals slowly, which means chewing our food well. We recommend going to bed at least two hours after dinner and avoiding naps after eating,” the specialist warns.

Hygiene measures

If someone in your family has caught COVID-19, you should keep them as far away as possible from elderly people and keep them isolated in order to prevent this risk group from becoming infected.

“If you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should isolate yourself, use a protective face mask, keep two-and-a-half meters away from other people, use separate kitchen utensils, and stay away from the elderly. You should stay in your room for 14 days,” recommends Alfredo Morayta, Head of the Infectious Disease Department at Hospital 20 de Noviembre.

The specialist asked children not to come into contact with the elderly, as we are in Phase 3 of the pandemic, when the greatest number of infections is expected. “For those who live with and come into contact with elderly people, it’s important to keep a healthy distance and wash your hands as many times as necessary. If you have children, keep them away from elderly people. The elderly are the pillars of our society and I believe we should look after them as they looked after us,” emphasizes Morayta.

Mental hygiene

Part of the integrated care of elderly people also consists of monitoring their mental health. To do so, it’s important to address the signs of chronic stress that may complicate other diseases. “Prolonged stress manifests itself in the body as high blood pressure and can begin to cause heart problems or worsen these if they’re already present, as well as aggravate diseases such as diabetes or obesity. This chronic stress can become a disorder known as acute stress. The symptoms worsen and it becomes more chronic,” says Diana Gutiérrez, a psychotherapist from the Neurométrics neuroscience clinic.

Before the symptoms of stress get worse, relatives or carers of the elderly should develop a relationship of trust to be aware of symptoms and help prevent chronic stress in time.

“At the Neurométrics Clinic, we emphasize that the elderly should play an active role within the family, so it’s much easier for them to talk about all their needs and emotions to make their carers aware of them. This can sometime take a while, but it’s important that elderly people feel trust and support from their network and can thus express their needs,” explains Gutiérrez.

As well as strengthening their support network, Morayta adds that music, taking part in activities, and talking to them from a distance help reduce the stress caused by being isolated.

Exercise

As well as a good diet, exercise is another key to keeping your body healthy. The Mexico City Sports Institute recommends an exercise routine that enables the elderly to maintain their muscle mass and thus make their bodies more resistant. You can see the routine in this video.