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Coronavirus & COVID-19: Caregiving for the Elderly During this Pandemic

We all hoped back in March that the coronavirus would not be with us long, but here we are months later and it is still going strong. At very high risk – our elderly population. If you have a senior parent you care for or elderly loved ones living alone, you are probably struggling with handling elder care responsibilities amid safety restrictions and recommendations by the CDC.

Our older population is especially vulnerable to severe illness. Adults 60 and older, especially those with preexisting medical conditions including heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or cancer are more likely to have more severe — even deadly — coronavirus infection than other age groups.

Here’s what you need to know to keep elderly people safer, and what to do if they do become infected with COVID-19.

Keep Yourself Healthy

First and foremost, as a caregiver you need to take all the precautions you can to avoid becoming infected with COVID-19 yourself. Follow these basic guidelines:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after providing care, preparing food, using the bathroom, or touching surfaces in public places. 
  • Avoid crowds and crowded places.
  • If you cough or sneeze, be sure to do so into the bend of your elbow or into a disposable tissue. 
  • Keep your hands away from your face and from the face of your loved ones.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces in your home, and their home, often. Don’t forget to wipe down mobility and medical equipment used by your loved one, such as walkers, canes and handrails with disinfectant.

Practice Social Distancing (but NOT Social Isolation)

One important way to reduce the risk of exposing your older family members to coronavirus is to limit in-person visits. However, now that months have passed, avoiding visiting your parents or loved ones is terribly difficult. Older adults are often already feeling lonely, and they cherish time spent with their family. We need to make keeping older adults safe, but we also need to keep in mind that social isolation can have a very negative impact on an individual health and immunity. We never want an older adult living alone to feel cut off or isolated. Help your loved one by encouraging them to make calls daily to their friends and family members as a way to create more sense of connectedness.

If possible, utilize technology to help seniors feel involved, connected and have more purpose in their days. Help them connect via computer video chats such as Facebook or ZOOM so they can see and talk with friends and family. Help them access online spiritual services or other group meetings as a way to stay in touch with others.

Specific Tips on Seniors and Technology:

  • Show them how to video chat with others using smartphones, tablets or a laptop.
  • Remember, seniors are not as used to technology as we are so plan extra time to demonstrate and help them get used to the steps involved.
  • Write them up a “cheat sheet” of instructions to help them follow the necessary steps to get online when you are not available to assist.
  • Use apps to provide captions for adults with hearing challenges.
  • Encourage their friends and family members to call, write notes and send cards, and hope on a video call with your loved one. Even set a schedule so people can plan to reach out, and the connections can be spread out through the week to ward off loneliness.

Help Plan Ways to Stay Busy

Like the rest of us, this time of quarantines offers the opportunity to catch up on projects around the house and work on fun activities. Suggest your parent go through family photos and memorabilia to organize and sort these precious memories. This can be a great project to do together as well! Encourage them to tell you stories about the memories inspired by the photos. Old recipes are another great project to organize and share memories about together.

Puzzles and other games can be another great way to pass the time and keep the mind active. These sorts of activities are a great way to get any children involved. We all know, most seniors really enjoy the energy and enthusiasm of children around!

Talk Honestly and Make a Plan

If possible, include your older family member in a conversation about how handle interruptions of their normal routines given current restrictions. Talk about what will happen if they or someone in the family becomes sick. Talking through things ahead of time goes a long way in reducing everyone’s stress level. Seniors tend to worry a lot, so honest planning will help your elder feel more involved and prepared.

If you are the primary caregiver of your older family member, be sure to find someone near by who could help you should you become ill. Be sure to discuss this alternative, and post this emergency contact clearly at the home of your senior.

Arcadia New England is Here to Help

At Arcadia New England, we provide both licensed in-home healthcare, as well as personal and comfort care for seniors. We are following all of the necessary COVID-19 safety protocols in our work with clients in their homes. We are here to support family caregivers with the demands of care and companionship. Call Us today to learn more about how we can help you and care for your loved one!

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