[Skip to Content]

Looking out for seniors living in isolation: Geriatrics chief highlights special concerns

Sharon Brangman, MD (photo by Drew Osum) Sharon Brangman, MD (photo by Drew Osum)


Upstate’s chief of geriatrics, Sharon Brangman, MD, has a simple message for seniors during the coronavirus pandemic: Stay home.

“We want them to limit their contact with people who could potentially give them the virus,” she says. Even those individuals who don’t get around much are a concern, “because they may come in contact with adult children or grandchildren who have traveled.

“The assumption we all have to make is that everyone has the virus, even if they don’t have symptoms.”

HealthLInk on Air logo(Hear Sharon Brangman discuss the effects of the coronavirus and its isolation on the elderly in an interview with Upstate's "HealthLink on Air.")

Brangman says seniors should not have guests over and should not babysit for grandchildren who are home from school. She suggests a single designated person interact with a senior who is housebound. That person can help with groceries or errands, limiting contact with others.

If no one can pick up prescriptions for you, Brangman suggests calling the pharmacy ahead of time and making plans to arrive early, when the store may have fewer people. “We don’t want older people waiting in long lines or being in crowded stores.” She notes several groceries and pharmacies offer early-morning hours meant for seniors only.

As for seniors who live in nursing homes, Brangman points out that many nursing homes were proactive in restricting visitors, which protects the residents. This likely means loved ones have to get creative in how they maintain communication with their loved ones, those in nursing homes and those living alone. “Even though we are maintaining physical distance, we should try to double our efforts to call people and make sure we’re in contact with them and see if they have any needs we can help them meet,” Brangman says.

What makes seniors more vulnerable to this virus?

“After the age of 50 or so, our immune system starts to get a little weaker. And then as you get older, your immune system becomes even weaker,” she says. “When you add on other medical problems, that’s another stress on the body, so that when you get exposed to a virus — whether it’s the flu or something like coronavirus — that becomes a stress that can overwhelm your system.”

Brangman says because of their vulnerability, seniors need to react quickly to the development of any unusual symptoms. Achiness, fever, runny nose or cough are symptoms that warrant a call to their primary care provider.

Upstate Health magazine cover for spring 2020, special coronavirus editionThis article is from the spring 2020 Upstate Health magazine, a special edition dealing with the coronavirus.