What do Older Adults and People with Disabilities Need to Know?
Your risk of serious COVID-19 illness may be increased
It is particularly important for you to avoid exposure and be aware of the symptoms and emergency warning signings. Not sure whether you should seek medical attention? CDC's Coronavirus Self-Checker tool can help you make decisions.
- Read more
Older adults and people with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for COVID-19 illness. Residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities may also be at increased risk.
Risks from COVID-19 increase steadily as you age; it’s not just those over the age of 65 who are at increased risk for severe illness. This may be because immune systems change with age, making it harder to fight off diseases and infection. Older adults also are more likely to have underlying health conditions that make it harder to cope with and recover from illness.
Watch for symptoms and emergency warning signs
COVID-19 symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, or at least two of the following:
- repeated shaking with chills
- muscle pain
- sore throat
- new loss of taste or smell
If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately. These include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
This list is not all inclusive. Consult your medical provider for any other symptom that is severe or concerning.
The latest on vaccinations
For information on vaccinations, please refer to the CDC's updated vaccination information.
- For people with disabilities: The Disability Information and Assistance Line (DIAL) can be reached by calling 888-677-1199 or by emailing DIAL@usaginganddisability.org any time.
- For older adults: Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 or visit the website to chat live or browse resources.
Stay safe -- and protect others!
Everyone, regardless of age or disability, should follow CDC's recommendations to help prevent the spread of the virus.
- How to prevent exposure
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, between people who are within about 6 feet of each other. Respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. It is possible that these droplets may also be inhaled into the lungs. Learn more about how the virus spreads.
- Wear a mask when you are in a high-risk situation
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating and after going to the bathroom, blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or touching surfaces in public places.
- Stay home when you are sick, and avoid close contact with people who are sick. Comply with local social distancing recommendations!
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- CDC guidance for after you are vaccinated
Click on the CDC website for the most recent guidance on vaccines.
- CDC's guidance for specific populations
- Guidance for people who are at higher risk for severe illness. Based on currently available information and clinical expertise, older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
- Guidance for older adults about their potential risks during the pandemic, symptoms, developing a care plan, and more.
- Guidance for people with disabilities - addresses potential risks during the pandemic, how people with disabilities can protect themselves, and how to prepare.
- CDC guidance for caregivers, direct service professionals, and group homes
- Guidance for Direct Service Providers, Caregivers, Parents, and People with Developmental and Behavioral Disorders
- Guidance for caregivers of people living with dementia
- Guidance for direct service providers
- Guidance for group homes for people with disabilities
- Guidance for shared or congregate housing
- Considerations for owners and operators of multifamily housing including populations at increased risk for complications from COVID-19
- For people with disabilities or medical conditions
There are some additional things people with disabilities can do to prepare during the COVID-19 outbreak:
- Plan what you will do if you or your direct support provider get sick. Create a contact list of family, friends, neighbors, and local service agencies that can provide support in case you or your direct support provider become ill or unavailable.
- Plan at least two ways of communicating from home and work that can be used rapidly in an emergency (e.g., landline phone, cell phone, text-messaging, email). Write down this information and keep it with you.
- Have enough household items and groceries so that you will be comfortable staying home for a few weeks, at least a 30-day supply of over-the-counter and prescription medicines, and any medical equipment or supplies that you might need. Some health plans allow for a 90-day refill on prescription medications. Consider discussing this option with your healthcare provider. Make a photocopy of prescriptions, as this may help in obtaining medications in an emergency situation.
The CDC released materials to help parents or other caregivers of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) navigate important conversations about COVID-19. CDC’s COVID-19 Materials for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Care Providers toolkit includes posters, fact sheets in multiple languages, web pages with answers to common questions, social stories, videos, and interactive activities.
Stay Connected and Engaged
While some may be comfortable adjusting to the "new normal", many may still want to take extra precautions or may not be able leave the house for other reasons. Here are some ways to stay engaged, even thought it may not be face to face. Some of these resources were created with older adults in mind, but the suggestions and resources they offer are good for people of any age.
Created as part of our celebration of Older Americans Month, this tip sheet provides ideas for socializing and exploring the world through technology, as well as some low-tech suggestions.
Engage Virtually: Tips for keeping older adults connected. Please consider these ideas from the Administration for Community Living.
- Avoiding social isolation and managing anxiety (from AARP)
Guidelines from our partners at the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response include this great list of suggestions by AARP:
- Develop a plan to connect with family, friends or loved ones: Talk to family and friends to develop a plan to safely stay in touch during social distancing. This is especially important for people living alone.
- Limit news consumption: Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
- Care for living things: Caring for pets or plants provides a sense of purpose and improved health.
- Take care of your body: Physical activity such as walking or light stretching helps calm tension; eat healthy, well-balanced meals, and avoid alcohol and drug abuse. It is also important to get adequate sleep.
- Listen to music, find activities that bring joy: Beyond the music and activities available in the common living area shared by residents there are music events and activities online, such as free livestreamed concerts. National Public Radio is maintaining a list of Live Virtual Concerts.
- Keep your mind active: Completing puzzles (e.g., jigsaw, crossword, sudoku), reading, and engaging in art projects helps to keep the mind occupied and can improve cognitive functioning.
- Use calming techniques: Such as deep breathing, stretching, meditation, prayer, taking a warm bath or shower, or sitting with a pet.
- Find ways to laugh: Watch a TV show, or chat with a friend or family member who brings joy.
- Create short personal videos that can be shared between family and loved ones.
- Staying Connected at Home - A Resource from the Eldercare Locator and engAGED
ACL's Eldercare Locator and engAGED: The National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults, which are both funded by ACL and administered by n4a put together these suggestions for how older adults -- and people of any age -- can prevent social isolation and loneliness while staying safe.
- Feeling Good and Staying Connected - An Activity Guide
This activity guide from the California Department of Aging has ideas that can help people of any age stay engaged. Now might be a great time to pick up that hobby you had in childhood, for example.
- Get smart on technology
- Video and digital communication - Comparing tools, ensuring, usability/accessibility
- The University of Maine's Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies has partnered with Speaking Up for Us, an organization run by and for adults who live with developmental disabilities, to release an updated resource, Planning Accessible Meetings and Conferences: A Suggested Checklist and Guide
- ODEP's Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) published a "How to Pick an Accessible Virtual Meeting Platform" tip sheet. This resource provides best practices on the process of ensuring that employers' meeting platforms support full accessibility for people with disabilities.
- Disability:IN has developed a resource page on digital accessibility and other best practices for remote work.
- Rooted in Rights offers tips for making virtual meeting more accessible for people with disabilities.
- "The Big Hack," a project of the British non-profit Scope, provides an overview of accessibility features found in various video conferencing apps.
- The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has developed a detailed overview of remote video communication options titled, Tools for Reaching a Remote Audience. NCOA provides pros and cons for each tool, including Facebook Live, Google Hangouts, Zoom, and several others. Links to additional information are included in the document. This resource is a convenient first stop for people wanting to connect to each other remotely and also includes information about tools that can be used for meetings and presentations.
- Policy brief: How states are combating social isolation and loneliness
The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Promoting Healthy Aging for People with Long-Term Physical Disabilities, which is funded by ACL's National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research, recently published a health policy brief on state responses to the social isolation and loneliness faced by adults with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
About COVID-19 overall
USA.gov has a directory of COVID-19 websites managed by government agencies.
- Health information from CDC
CDC's COVID-19 web page includes a number of resources, including specific guidance for:
- People at risk of serious illness from COVID-19
- Preventing spread of COVID-19 in communities
- What to do if you or someone in your household is sick
- Healthcare professionals
- Daily life and coping
- Fact sheets for older adults, people with disabilities
- Common Questions and Answers About COVID-19 for Older Adults and People with Chronic Health Conditions, created by the Alliance for Aging Research and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
- Staying Safe at Home During the Coronavirus Crisis from the Eldercare Locator and the Alliance for Aging Research.
- Accessible Vaccine Fact Sheet -It is important to create an accessible vaccine experience for people with disabilities and older adults. Here is a fact sheet that can help you understand what is central to success in making that happen.
- Preventing Elder Abuse during COVID-19
Keeping Family Together During COVID-19: A Checklist is designed to aid families avoid elder abuse involving physical, emotional and financial harm. During the 2008 Financial Crisis the housing market and economy collapsed, finances were decimated and adult children moved back in with their parents. Cases of elder abuse soared. As a result of COVID-19, there is an increased risk of similar trends. By learning from the past, we can prevent similar mistakes ahead.
Even in the most genial of families, close quarters and changes in living situations may heighten emotions, potentially contributing to family discord. Efforts can be made to reduce tensions and promote a healthy and safe environment for all. The link above, from the National Center on Elder Abuse, provides a tip sheet and checklist that will help families maintain safe and positive household relationships.
- Community-Based Testing Sites for COVID-19
HHS has partnered with pharmacy and retail companies to provide COVID-19 testing in community settings.
This website provides up-to-date information about each company's efforts to provide timely and accessible COVID-19 testing. You can schedule an appointment for testing on each company's website.
- Resources for Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs is working to protect and care for veterans and their families, health care providers, and staff in the face of this COVID-19 pandemic.
Veterans with symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath should contact their local VA medical facility before visiting. Veterans also can sign into My HealtheVet to send secure messages to their VA providers or use telehealth options to explain their condition and receive a prompt diagnosis.
More resources from the VA:
- FAQs and Resources Related to Guardianship
The National Guardianship Association has developed FAQs and provides other resources that may be useful to guardians during the COVID-19 crisis.
The National Center for State Courts, the American Bar Association, and the National Guardianship Association have released a two-page brochure addressing common questions about guardians and the COVID-19 vaccine for long-term care facility residents
Protecting civil rights
- Guidance from the HHS Office for Civil Rights
On March 28, the HHS Office for Civil Rights published OCR Bulletin: Civil Rights, HIPAA, and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) to ensure that entities covered by civil rights authorities keep in mind their obligations under laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, and exercise of conscience and religion in HHS-funded programs.
The bulletin states that, “…persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative “worth” based on the presence or absence of disabilities or age. Decisions by covered entities concerning whether an individual is a candidate for treatment should be based on an individualized assessment of the patient and his or her circumstances, based on the best available objective medical evidence.”
- Equal employment and other labor-related resources
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has developed, "What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.” This resource provides updated technical assistance on COVID-19 questions arising under federal equal employment opportunity laws.
- The U.S. Department of Labor has developed a resource page to help workers and employers prepare for the COVID-19 virus. USDOL's Office of Disability Employment Policy has also compiled a list of disability-specific COVID-19 resources.
- Know your rights during the COVID-19 pandemic
The National Disability Rights Network has created a video series on the rights of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and what to do if they are violated. The series includes:
- Training for healthcare triage teams: Preventing discrimination against people with disabilities
As part of the Disability Awareness and Sensitivity in Healthcare (DASH) initiative, the University of Miami’s Mailman Center for Child Development has created a rapid response team training for triage team members who are faced with making resource allocation decisions during shortages (e.g. ventilators, etc.). This brief training details how to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities during a public health emergency. It covers actions that triage team members and institutions can take to protect patients with disabilities, and it reviews tips for effective communication and the provision of accommodations. While this training is intended for members of triage teams who will be involved in making resource allocation decisions, others may also benefit from reviewing this content.
- Resources from ACL's Center for Dignity in Healthcare
The Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities has developed a webpage with a host of COVID-19 related materials.
Federal Assistance Programs for Individuals and Families
- Accessing Rental Assistance
The CFPB has developed a tool to help renters and landlords look up rental assistance in their area and apply for assistance. The Rental Assistance Finder is designed to help tenants and landlords take advantage of emergency rental assistance that can be used to cover rent, utilities, and other housing costs. Ultimately, the goal is keep people in their homes. The CFPB also released a toolkit to help spread the word about the program.
Many individuals face barriers to accessing rental assistance funds, including lack of knowledge of the programs available, internet connectivity issues, language access issues, and difficulty navigating overly burdensome paperwork. A training from ACL's National Center on Law and Elder Rights can help advocates learn more about how to help older adults navigate these issues. The training, Emergency Rental Assistance Programs and Other Tools to Prevent Evictions of Older Adult Tenants, and the Chapter Summary that accompanied the training are both now available.
The CFPB issued an enforcement compliance bulletin and policy guidance related to issues that may arise with inaccurate consumer reporting of rental information. As government interventions established during the pandemic (e.g., CDC moratorium, CARES Act funding, rental assistance) begin to expire, CFPB notes that renters are at increased risk of eviction. CFPB has created a one-stop housing insecurity landing page for renters, homeowners, and struggling landlords in collaboration with other federal housing agencies and a housing insecurity media toolkit to assist organizations with the dissemination of relevant information.
- Affordable Connectivity Program
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provides eligible households with a discount on broadband service and connected devices.
On November 15, 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Infrastructure Act) became law. The Infrastructure Act provided $14.2 billion to modify and extend the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program) to a longer-term broadband affordability program called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).
- Find Food Assistance
Senior Nutrition Programs
Through the Older Americans Act (OAA) Nutrition Program, ACL’s Administration on Aging (AoA) provides grants to states to help support nutrition services for older people throughout the country. These services include both home-delivered meals and healthy meals served in group settings, such as senior centers and faith-based locations.
Get information on local nutrition programs for older adults by visiting the Eldercare Locator website or calling 1-800-677-1116.
Resources from the the United States Department of Agriculture
The USDA National Hunger Clearinghouse helps low-income people with food assistance. If you need help finding local food resources such as meal sites, food banks, and other social services, call 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (Spanish) to speak with a representative. You can also text “97779” to the automated service with a question that may contain a keyword such as “food,” “meals,” etc., to receive an automated response to local resources.
- Economic Impact Payments
Here you will find information about how receiving COVID-related benefits will not affect your entitlement to important federal public benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Most types of pandemic-related financial assistance, including Economic Impact Payments, are not considered income when assessing eligibility for -- or amount, duration, or scope of -- a public benefit like SSI, Medicaid, or SNAP. As a corollary, transfer of assets provisions do not apply.
In August 2021, the Social Security Administration (SSA) changed their rules about how pandemic-related financial assistance (including economic impact payments) can affect an individual’s eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or their monthly SSI benefit amount. View a full list of COVID-19 financial assistance that no longer counts against SSI eligibility or SSI payment amount.
ACL’s National Center on Law and Elder Rights (NCLER) has developed a “Practice Tip” with additional information on this change and its legal implications.
- FEMA Funeral Assistance Program
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought overwhelming grief to many families. At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters. We are dedicated to helping ease some of the financial stress and burden caused by the virus.
The COVID-19 incident period ended on May 11, 2023. FEMA will continue to provide funeral assistance until Sept. 30, 2025, to those who have lost loved ones due to this pandemic.
Resources for Everyone
ACL shares resources created by our partners in the aging and disability networks and non-governmental agencies when a comparable resource from a government source does not exist. This does not constitute endorsement for one organization over another or indicate support for opinions expressed by the organizations.
- For family caregivers
State Medicaid home- and community-based services can provide critical education, counseling, and training to family caregivers of older adults. The National Academy for State Health Policy has created a new interactive map capturing how each state’s Medicaid waivers addresses training and counseling services for family caregivers.
- For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and self-advocates
- A COVID-19 Vaccination Fact Sheet is available in two formats from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). The Easy Read Edition is available with accompanying graphics. Click here to download the Plain Language version of the COVID-19 Fact Sheet without accompanying graphics.
- The Self Advocacy Resource and Technical Assistance Center (SARTAC) has released an FAQ document titled COVID-19 Vaccine Information in Plain Language.
- Fact sheet from the Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities that describes the rights of people with disabilities and self-advocacy tips when receiving medical care, particularly during COVID-19.
- The ACL-funded Self-Advocacy Resource and Technical Assistance Center (SARTAC) and Green Mountain Self-Advocates have created a series of plain language resources for people with developmental disabilities:
- COVID-19 Plain Language Guidance for Employees with Developmental Disabilities describes many of OSHA’s rules to protect workers from COVID-19 and includes information and tools to use to make a decision about going out in public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Information on COVID-19: Available in English and Spanish.
- Tips for working with direct service providers/support staff during COVID-19.
- Words to Know About the Coronavirus
- People First Wisconsin has videos with fun things to do online and tips to stay healthy during the coronavirus pandemic.
- The California State Council on Developmental Disabilities has fact sheets for people with disabilities, including:
- NCAPPS Person-centered tool to help older adults and people with disabilities communicate needs and preferences.
ACL's National Center on Advancing Person-Centered Practices and Systems has developed a Health Care Person-Centered Profile to assist people with disabilities, older adults, and others to communicate their needs and preferences with hospital and other health care staff. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people with communication, comprehension, and behavioral challenges may face the possibility of a hospital visit without significant others or usual supporters present. To address the heightened challenges this poses, a group of experts in person-centered planning developed a tool that people and their families and caregivers can fill out and share with medical staff upon hospital intake or care site transfer.
The tool has two pages: a Health Care Information sheet for capturing brief and vital information about the person’s health status and a Health Care Person-Centered Profile for describing who the person is, what is most important to the person, and how best to provide support—vital information that can help medical staff provide more tailored and person-centered care.
The Health Care Information Sheet also has a section for detailed contact information to help medical staff reach a person’s emergency contact or legal representative. It contains a section for indicating whether advance directives are in place and where those documents can be found.
The tool and accompanying instructions and examples were jointly developed by experts from Support Development Associates and the University of Missouri Kansas City Institute for Human Development Charting the LifeCourse Nexus, and by Janis Tondora from the Yale University Program for Recovery and Community Health.
- Cross-disability resources from the the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)
- Complex communication needs: Resources and tools for people who are deaf, hard of hearing or DeafBlind, or who do not use speech; medical professionals, and others who provide support
This web page includes resources to help people with complex communication needs prepare in case emergency assistance is needed, as well as information and tools for caregivers and healthcare providers. It was created by the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication at Penn State University, which is funded by ACL's National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research.
For people who are deaf, hard of hearing or DeafBlind
This web page provides tips to help people who are deaf, hard of hearing or DeafBlind communicate at the hospital while COVID-19 precautions are in place. It includes a list of smartphone applications and a printable medical placard that may be helpful. It was created by the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Technology Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center, funded by ACL's NIDILRR,
- For people with paralysis and those serving people with paralysis
The Paralysis Resource Center, an ACL grantee, created their a COVID-19 resource for people living with paralysis. The fact sheet was updated on December 14 to include additional information on vaccinations.
Other resources from the Paralysis Resource Center include:
A report on the COVID - 19 Impact on State Pilot Grantees and Subawardees and an associated infographic that provides a dashboard view of self-evaluation and application process metrics.
- Behavioral health resources to help during social distancing and quarantine
- SAMHSA's Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7 crisis counseling and support to people experiencing disaster-related emotional distress.
- Deaf/Hard of Hearing instructions:
- Text TalkWithUs to 66746
- Use your preferred relay service to call the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990
- TTY 1-800-846-8517
- Deaf/Hard of Hearing instructions:
- SAMHSA Virtual Recovery Resources describes resources that can be used to virtually support recovery from mental/substance use disorders and to help local recovery programs create virtual meetings.
For Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and SSI beneficiaries
- SAMHSA's Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7 crisis counseling and support to people experiencing disaster-related emotional distress.
- Public Health Emergency "Unwinding"
Please visit ACL's page for an overview of policy changes due to the Public Health Emergency "Unwinding".
The federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) and Major Disaster Declaration (MDD) for COVID-19 ended on May 11, 2023, and federally funded programs returned to normal operations. This transition ended the temporary, but significant, changes made to Medicaid enrollment and eligibility rules, as well as additional pandemic-specific flexibilities extended to State Units on Aging for programs funded through the Older Americans Act.
As trusted community partners and effective messengers, the aging and disability networks have a critical role to play in ensuring millions of low-income older adults, people with disabilities, their families and caregivers retain health coverage.
This HHS fact sheet, released on May 9, 2023, describes flexibilities enabled by the COVID-19 emergency declaration during the PHE and they are impacted by the end of the COVID-19 PHE. on May 11.
- Medicare Beneficiary Q&A: Avoiding Medicare Scams
Scams related to the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, are rapidly increasing as the public health emergency develops. Scammers are targeting older adults and those with serious long-term health conditions who appear to have a higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19. Fraudsters are attempting to bill Medicare for sham tests or treatments related to the coronavirus and are targeting individuals to illegally obtain money or Medicare numbers.
ACL's Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) program wants Medicare beneficiaries to have the most up-to-date information on what Medicare covers and when. This document from the SMP Resource Center provides answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding Medicare’s coverage related to COVID-19.
- Tracking states' Medicaid Appendix K Waivers
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, states are using Medicaid Appendix K waivers to incorporate flexibility into their home- and community-based services to ensure access to long-term services and supports during the crisis. NASHP has launched an interactive map that tracks states’ use of Appendix K waivers to modify services for older adults and their family caregivers.
- ACL resource on testing access and coverage
Testing is an important way to help control the spread of COVID-19. Early detection through a positive test can identify people who need care so they can get treatment and don’t pass the virus on to others. This resource developed by ACL provides an overview of COVID-19 testing, including when you should get tested, where tests are available, and who pays.