These are strange days indeed, and the concern about containing the spread of this invisible enemy, COVID-19, is the most important thing we can do today and in the coming weeks to keep everyone, especially our beloved elderly population, safe. Because seniors are at the highest risk for complications, it’s imperative that we all follow the guidelines which seem to continue to change from day to day. I must agree with you; caregivers and COVID-19 are on the forefront of the minds of all of us that work with, care for, and love seniors.
In the Home
The most important thing you can do to keep your loved one safe is to stay home, and that goes for both of you. While walks in your area should be fine, running to the store for something to do is not. Seniors may not understand what’s going on, and if you want to keep them informed, try to do it in a simple way to avoid confusing or upsetting them. Focus on the things you do have control over, like washing your hands for the recommended 20 seconds, sanitizing surfaces such as light switch plates, doorknobs, and other commonly touched areas, or ordering groceries and prescriptions online instead of going to the store in person.
Caregivers who come in the home should check regularly for in-home care guideline changes. Take your and your senior’s temperatures daily as well to know if either of you has a fever. Keep in mind that a senior’s normal temperature is often lower, which means any elevation, however slight, could indicate a fever. Washing hands frequently, wearing gloves or masks, and sanitizing surfaces all can help prevent the spread of germs.
Also, if you work with a home health company or hire a caregiver independently, try to maximize the hours for in-home care with one or two reliable caregivers to lessen the number of people coming into the home. Most importantly, avoid physical contact if you can; that means no hello kisses, long hugs, or handholding if you come and go from the house.
At the Facility
At this point, most assisted living facilities have probably limited visitors or even outside caregivers to protect their residents from this fast-spreading virus. What can you do about caregivers and COVID-19 if you can’t enter the building? This part takes a bit more creativity.
For starters, communicate regularly with the facility administration to see what, if anything, the staff is doing to enrich the residents’ lives during this period of physical distancing. Find out if you can drop off activities for your loved one, such as coloring books, puzzles, photo albums, or a tablet with apps and audiobooks loaded that they could use without much instruction. You may also want to check on having a special meal or treat delivered to your senior.
Another thing you can do is call your senior, and call often. You may want to create a schedule among other family members or friends so that your loved one gets at least one call a day to feel connected. Consider video chatting if that is available and your senior knows how to use it. You may want to add additional channels to a basic cable package to give your loved one more options while staying room bound.
If your loved one lives on the first floor and has a window (and if the facility is good with it), why not have a nice chat the old-fashioned way? Have someone inside open a window, then park yourself outside and talk. You’ll be a safe distance away but still able to converse. Try to avoid talking about current affairs, which can be overwhelming, and steer towards happy memories and stories from the past that your senior may enjoy discussing. You can bring a pretty hanging plant or fill a birdfeeder while you are there so your loved one has something to look at right outside the window.
The thing about caregivers and COVID-10 right now is that this is a temporary situation. We all need to be prepared, but we don’t need to panic. Make sure you or a caregiver knows what symptoms to look for if you are concerned about your senior, and if there are any signs of respiratory problems, don’t hesitate to seek immediate medical care. Watch out as well for scams, as some unsavory elements like to take advantage of an uncertain time full of fear.
Stay strong and stay healthy, and together, we can get through this difficult time.