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Elderly people should avoid exposure to coronavirus – attention should be paid to wellbeing and functional capacity

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Publication date 19.5.2020 16.48 | Published in English on 19.5.2020 at 17.49
Press release 122/2020

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has updated its guidelines for elderly people to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

The updated guidelines draw particular attention to ways in which elderly people can safely have contact with their family and close friends and maintain their wellbeing and functional capacity under emergency conditions.

Elderly people, particularly those aged over 70, should avoid exposure to the coronavirus because they are at a higher risk of developing a severe COVID-19 disease than others. This is because our immune system gets weaker with age. Similarly, elderly people often have various underlying conditions that make them susceptible to a severe form of the COVID-19 disease.

Based on the extensive data collected by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), age is a significant risk factor. According to the statistics of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, the majority of COVID-19 victims in Finland were aged over 70.

How can elderly people avoid infection?

Elderly people are advised to follow the same general guidelines to reduce the risk of infection as anyone else. These include avoiding close contacts, keeping a distance from other people, and maintaining good hand hygiene.

Elderly people may go shopping, go to the pharmacy or visit the health centre, but it is important to maintain good hand hygiene and keep a safe distance of at least 1–2 metres from other people. It is advisable not to run errands when it’s busy.

If you need assistance, ask a member of your family or a neighbour to help. Help is also available from your municipality or parish, and other organisations. 

Elderly persons experiencing symptoms of a respiratory tract infection should avoid contact with other people and consult a doctor. If they get sick, they must make an appointment with a nurse or a doctor. 

Social relationships are important in emergency conditions 

It is important to stay in touch with friends and family in emergency conditions by telephone or other remote communication devices. If you meet someone face-to-face, make sure to keep a safe distance of two metres. Neighbours, family and friends are important supporters of everyday life in emergency conditions.

Visits with people aged over 70 and in other risk groups are discouraged if you show any signs of a respiratory infection.

If it is necessary to visit a person in the risk group, make sure you follow the safety precautions. Avoid handshakes, hugging and other close contact. Visitors must use a face mask or similar disposable protection to cover their mouth and nose. Wash or sanitise your hands before and after the visit.

Special attention to be paid to promoting wellbeing and functional capacity

The ability to lead an active life and use physical, mental and social abilities for a wide range of purposes can maintain wellbeing and functional capacity in elderly people. Any meaningful activity such as household chores, baking, crafts, reading or gardening helps to maintain wellbeing.

Physical exercise such as a walk outdoors or simple exercising at home is recommended to elderly people. When you go out, remember to keep a safe distance of two metres from other people.

It is important to eat balanced meals regularly and to get enough fluids. It is also essential to look after your health. Do not cancel appointments with a doctor for no reason. Other reasons for seeking medical treatment include regular control visits to treat a chronic disease


Taru Koivisto, Director, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health [email protected]
Seija Viljamaa, Senior Specialist, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, [email protected]
Minna-Liisa Luoma, Head of Unit, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, [email protected]

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