Safer Shopping for Seniors

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Bustling crowds during coronavirus-fueled panic shopping may have presented an annoyance to some shoppers. But for an older adult with balance issues, going to stores during a time like this can increase the risk of falling and a subsequent broken bone.

Of course, during the pandemic, it’s important to follow health and safety protocols about going places in public; however, in general, a few strategies for shopping can make it safer to reduce the risk of falling for older adults.

Julie Mayeu, social work supervisor with Landmark Health in Buffalo, recommended shopping at less busy times.

“Early in the morning is less crowded,” she said.

Grocery stores are least busy before 8 a.m., according to InMarket, a company that analyzes retail shopping patterns. Once it’s noon, the store likely will stay busy until 7 p.m. As a plus, the store will likely be its cleanest and best-stocked early in the morning. Weekends, especially Saturday morning and early afternoon on Sunday (the post-church crowd) are very busy times, as are the day before a holiday or food-oriented event, such as the Super Bowl.

Shopping on weekdays — especially during morning working hours — is a much better bet for experiencing thinner crowds.

Mayeu encouraged older adults to bring along their cane or walker or use any assistive devices the store might have, such as a motorized shopping car.

If possible, bringing along the cane in the cart can help if the shopper needs to step away from the cart.

Planning the route through the store can make the trip easier by reducing the need to backtrack. For example, grouping all the dairy items on the list can save backtracking to that department.

To save steps, shop online. Amazon Prime Pantry, for example, can deliver shelf-stable goods free with orders of $35 or more. That can whittle down the shopping list to fewer items.

Or, shop with a store such as Wegmans or Tops, which offer curbside pick-up or delivery through the Instacart app. This includes a store’s perishable goods, too.

“A lot of stores let you pick your groceries and they have everything ready for you,” Mayeu said. “They bring everything out to your car. They’re really good about making sure if there’s a specific item that the person needs and the store doesn’t have that item, they’ll reach out and say, ‘Is it okay if I substitute this instead?’ I’ve had several patients use this and they’ve had good feedback with it.”

She also wants more people with balance concerns to get assistance while shopping or to send by others for what they need.

“Don’t be afraid to ask your family, friends or neighbors if you’ve had someone offer to go grocery shopping,” she said. “Use those resources.”

She added that many church groups offer grocery drop-off or other errand assistance for older adults who may be mobile, but struggling with performing extended shopping excursions.

“Driving from store to store is huge,” Mayeu said. “It can take multiple days to recover physically and emotionally from driving all around.”

Daniel Jones has a certificate in gerontology and owns Daniel Teaches based in Rochester. He teaches technology lessons specializing in helping older adults access technology. Lately, he’s been developing online tutorials on apps such as Grubhub and Instacart.

“If you take your time and go through them, both are very straightforward,” Jones said.

Grubhub and DoorDash, a similar app, deliver restaurant food based upon ZIP code. Just enter the ZIP and see what restaurants use the delivery services.

“By default, it brings up menus for your area,” Jones said. “They may charge more because you live far away. There’s a point where the app itself is not going to work for you. But that will be pretty rare.”

Instacart works in a similar fashion, linking users to the stores nearest to the user, including grocery stores, mass merchandisers and drug stores.

While having someone else pick out your food may be an adjustment, “for the most part, when we all go shopping, we usually buy the same things,” Jones said. “I don’t need to check the back of the Ritz crackers every time. It’s a staple.”

Tips for Safe Grocery Shopping

You’re in lockdown, yet you still have to go grocery shopping, but how do you stay safe and avoid catching the coronavirus?

The American Medical Association has some timely tips.

When you go to the store:

• Stay at least six feet away from other shoppers.

• Don’t shake hands, hug or have any physical contact.

• Wipe down grocery carts or basket handles with disinfectant wipes if you have them.

• Don’t touch your face.

• Wear a cloth face mask.

• While waiting and after leaving the store, use hand sanitizer if you have it.

• If you’re sick, don’t go shopping. But if you must, wear a mask, wash your hands often and keep a safe distance between you and others.

When you get your groceries home:

• Although it’s unlikely you’ll be exposed to the virus from the items in your shopping bag, wash your hands after unpacking your groceries.

• Wipe surfaces with a household disinfectant.

Take precautions when preparing food:

• Wash your hands before eating.

• Do not share plates or silverware with others.

• Rinse fruits and vegetables before eating them.

If you’re 65 or older:

• Ask a neighbor or friend to pick up groceries and leave them outside your house or bring them in while keeping at least six feet apart.

• Check with your local market and go during store hours reserved for older shoppers.

• See if your grocer delivers and shop online.

These tips were published online recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.