COVID-19 and flu season: How seniors can prepare

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It is the middle of flu season, and COVID-19 numbers are rising, which means it’s important for seniors to take precautions and become more prepared in the unexpected event of illness. This time of year is even more dangerous since it is possible to catch both flu and COVID-19 simultaneously. Even when there is no worldwide pandemic, securing adequate insurance protection and reviewing existing policies is a wise move to protect assets and provide for loved ones. It’s a good idea for everyone, especially the elderly, to review life affairs such as health insurance, life insurance, powers of attorney, personal financial records and household information.

How to prepare for Coronavirus and Flu season

COVID-19 vs. Flu

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), while the flu can circulate year-round, most flu activity peaks between December and February, with activity lasting as late as May. It’s important to understand that while COVID-19 and flu symptoms may be similar, there are some key differences. COVID-19 symptoms tend to be more severe than the flu, and the new virus can also cause a loss of taste and smell.

Symptoms of COVID-19 vs. Flu

Symptoms COVID-19 Flu
Fever Yes Yes
Cough Yes Yes
Headache Yes Yes
Sore throat Yes Yes
Loss of taste or smell Yes No
Shortness of breath Yes Yes
Fatigue Yes Yes
Diarrhea or vomiting Yes Yes
Runny nose Yes Yes

If you or your loved one live in an assisted living facility

People who live together are typically at higher risk of spreading COVID-19 or the flu to each other. Because of this, establishments such as assisted living facilities have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. While most facilities are following expert guidelines issued by the CDC or their state, there are precautions that residents and their loved ones can take to help mitigate the risk of exposure to the virus, such as:

  • Limit or eliminate in-person visitation: This may not always be possible, but it is the safest option. Instead, consider using Zoom, FaceTime or other applications to participate in video calls with residents.
  • Wear a mask: If in-person visits are unavoidable, wear a mask when visiting loved ones in these facilities. It’s a good idea to keep the mask on at all times and avoid eating or drinking during your visit.
  • Practice social distancing: If you are visiting someone in assisted living or are a resident who receives visitors, it’s important to maintain the CDC-recommended distance of at least six feet of separation from yourself and others at all times.
  • Don’t bring large groups: Keep the number of visitors to a minimum to ensure that safety practices can be followed.
  • Wash hands frequently: It’s a good idea for both the resident and their visitors to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water before, during and after any visits.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth: To avoid catching any illness (not just COVID-19), the CDC also recommends avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

If you or your loved one lives alone

While it is important to decrease the chances of exposure to COVID-19 or the flu, it can be difficult for those who live alone, especially those who need extra assistance with day-to-day activities. These are some things that people living alone and their family and friends can do to help limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19 or the flu:

  • Convert in-person outings to virtual appointments: The CDC states that the safest option to avoid infection is to avoid contact with other people, but since this may not always be an option, consider doing things such as:
    • Limiting trips to retail or grocery stores and restaurants by ordering online instead. Those who are less tech-savvy could ask family or friends to help order things online.
    • Conduct work meetings, attend church or ‘gather’ with friends and family virtually via Zoom, FaceTime or other video apps.
    • Utilize telehealth services for minor illnesses or injuries.
  • Practice social distancing: If seeing people from outside your household is unavoidable, practice social distancing by getting together with family or friends in ‘drive-by’ visits or meeting together outside and maintaining at least six feet of separation.
  • Practice good hygiene: Frequently wash hands with soap and water, especially after coming into contact with other people or after touching surfaces that other people have recently touched. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Keep up contact with the outside world: Ask loved ones to call frequently and ensure that you are keeping in regular contact with people outside your household. Consider creating a schedule to check in with loved ones to ensure you have whatever you need.

Do your health and life insurance plans protect you from COVID-19?

Health insurance

According to the CDC, certain medical conditions may put you at higher risk for severe illness if you contract COVID-19. It’s always a good idea to review your health insurance coverage with a licensed insurance professional, especially during flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ask your health insurance company if your plan covers these illnesses and which doctors and hospitals are covered if you get sick. It is typically a good best practice to become established as a patient with a general practitioner if you do not have a primary physician. Urgent care clinics and hospital emergency rooms may be an option if you become ill and are not established with a general practitioner. Still, you should check with your insurance company to see what is covered and what you may have to pay out-of-pocket.

There are numerous health insurance options available in the market, and there is no one best plan that suits everyone. Do some research, compare providers and be sure to talk with your doctors and insurance company to ensure you have the right coverage for your health and budget.

Life insurance

Life insurance is something more people might be considering since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Those who already have policies might also wonder if their policy covers deaths related to COVID-19. Although rumors have circulated suggesting otherwise, the Insurance Information Institute (iii) reports that most life insurance policies cover deaths from COVID-19 and that death benefits are still being paid to beneficiaries of pandemic victims. Life insurance can be a sound financial investment planning tool, regardless of your health or life stage. Despite the pandemic, there are still many options available, and it’s always a good idea to ensure that you and your family are financially protected in the event of illness or death.

Life insurance goals vary by individual and can include funeral expenses, paying off debt, college expenses or leaving an inheritance for heirs. The most common types of life insurance policies are whole or term policies. Term life insurance is less expensive and lasts for a specific period. Whole life insurance is more expensive but lasts for life as long as premiums are paid. Whole life insurance also includes a savings component, or living benefit, that can be borrowed against while the insured person is still living. It might also be a good idea to look into purchasing long-term care insurance, which covers the non-medical costs associated with living in a care facility.

It’s important to do some research and determine which type of policy is right for your situation. Some policies are better for younger, healthier people, while others are designed to help protect older people who may have underlying medical conditions. Costs also vary widely based on several factors. Consider speaking with a licensed insurance professional to determine which type of policy is right for you and your family.

Power of Attorney

For those who become incapacitated due to illness, a Power of Attorney (POA) can help keep things running smoothly. POAs give someone the ability to make legal decisions on behalf of another person, so it’s important to select a trusted person to take on this responsibility before becoming ill. A POA scope can be limited or broad and can allow others to do things such as make financial decisions, sign documents, access bank accounts and other sensitive records.

Contact an estate planning attorney to establish a Power of Attorney; they can also help you understand other important documents to help loved ones carry out your wishes, such as a living will, advance directive and more.

Bottom line

Due to the heightened health risks of COVID-19 and the flu, everyone should take extra steps to protect themselves and their families, but seniors and the elderly should take extra precautions. With so much going on globally, there has never been a better time to get all your estate-planning affairs in order and review your health, life and long-term care insurance to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Frequently asked questions

What’s the best life insurance company?

Everyone’s needs vary when it comes to insurance. It’s a good idea when shopping for any kind of insurance to shop around and compare providers, then speak with a licensed insurance professional to decide what’s right for you.

How much does life insurance cost?

The cost of life insurance varies from person to person and is based on several factors, including age, health, lifestyle habits and the type and amount of coverage needed. Term life insurance is typically cheaper but doesn’t last as long, while whole life insurance is more expensive but lasts as long as premiums are paid and includes a savings component. There are also other types of life insurance available for very specific situations, such as burial insurance. Speak with a licensed insurance professional to determine how to get the best value for the life insurance you need.

Do my existing insurance policies cover COVID-19?

Health and life insurance coverage varies widely from policy to policy. If you’re worried you might be at risk, it’s a good idea to review your existing insurance policies with a licensed insurance professional to understand if you and your family are covered.