SOCIAL DISTANCING WHILE BEING CAREGIVER

MAY 8, 2020

The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has certainly changed our way of life. As we attempt to regain any resemblance of normalcy, it is important to continue practicing safety precautions to keep our loved ones healthy. This includes evaluating how to look after the older adults for whom we care. Seniors age 60 and older are especially vulnerable to severe illnesses. Those with pre-existing conditions – such as heart and lung disease or diabetes) are especially more likely to have severe infections. Here we discuss ideas to consider you care for someone while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Take Care of Yourself

As a caretaker, be sure to avoid becoming infected yourself. This includes taking all precautions necessary to keep yourself in good health:

    • Practice proper social distancing by avoiding large gatherings
    • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly
    • Avoid touching your face
    • Where a mask if you must go out
    • Stay at home if you or someone in your household is sick

Click here for additional resources from the CDC on how to best protect yourself during a pandemic.

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Create a Care Plan

As a caretaker, you may be involved in everything from taking medications to providing meals. With social distancing protocols, it may not be possible to provide the same amount of personal care as you are used to. A care plan will help you as a caregiver and those you care for balance everyday necessities and activities. Here are things to consider as you a develop a care plan for your loved one:

    • Current health conditions
    • Current medications and a medication schedule
    • Names and contact info for healthcare providers
    • Dates and times of scheduled appointments
    • List of emergency contacts

It may be a good idea to contact your doctor and ask for specific directions that should be included. While creating this plan, be sure to take note of any essential items that need to be gathered. It is recommended to stock up at least 2 weeks’ worth of medications, food, over-the-counter remedies, and other essentials.

As part of the care plan, consider creating a daily routine or schedule for your loved one to follow. Take into consideration times to take medications, eat meals, get exercise, or connect with family and friends. It is equally important to take time to educate those you care for on the risks and symptoms of COVID-19. Help them be aware of their own health and speak assertively about the need to be honest about the way they are feeling.

For an easy-to-follow guide on how to create a care plan, click here: 

Ensure Safety in the Home

Older adults who need assistance around the house will struggle with reduced contact with a caretaker. While creating a care plan, assess every room in the home and identify any dangers that could cause falls or injury.

    • Rugs or loose items on the floor
    • Hard or slippery surfaces and sharp corners
    • Difficult tasks like standing from a chair, bed, or toilet that have yet to be addressed
    • Commonly used items that are difficult to reach or get to

Fall-proof the home with bed rails, bathroom grab bars, and security poles. In addition, make sure that your loved one has a proper walker or rollator that enables them to move freely around the house.

Be Aware of Mental Health

Older adults and people with disabilities have an increased risk for mental health concerns, such as depression. That risk is heightened during long periods of isolation or social distancing. As part of your care plan, discuss the physical and cognitive symptoms to watch for regarding mental health. As you incorporate a daily routine into your care plan, create a list of activities that can be done inside to keep your loved one engaged. Activities to improve mental health could include:

    • Doing a jigsaw puzzle
    • Sorting old photos and photo albums
    • Writing or recording audio of personal and family stories
    • Writing letters to family members and friends

Stay Connected While Social Distancing

While we may be physically removed from eating out, going to school, or working, we are encouraged to maintain our social connections. In fact, Alicia Arbaje, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D at John Hopkins University says this about social distancing: “Social distancing doesn’t have to mean isolation or loneliness. We need to keep older adults safe, but also keep in mind that social isolation can have a negative impact on older people’s immunity and mental health.”

Planning occasional visits to check up on your loved is encouraged, as long as the visitor has been following proper self-care guidelines. While visiting, be sure to follow proper distancing and hygiene protocols. For many, maintaining social connections has been made possible on Zoom or FaceTime. An older adult may enjoy video chatting with children or grandchildren often, but may need to be instructed on how to use these platforms. Other ideas to stay connected include phone calls, cards or letters, virtual book clubs, or watching a movie at the same time and discussing.

While these new routines and methods are established during the pandemic, it is important to remember that the care plan should be revisited and revised often long after the pandemic is over.