This may be a cause for concern for you if you are caring for an elderly loved one. Internal medicine and geriatrics specialist M. Alicia Arbaje, M.D. has shared some tips to help you keep your elderly loved ones safe and how to care for those who have been infected with the new coronavirus (COVID-19) illness.
Take precautions to safeguard your own health.
As a caretaker, your top priority should be ensuring that you do not become infected yourself. Follow these fundamental principles:
Frequent hand washing. You should make sure to wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds after coming in contact with public areas, using the bathroom, touching any surfaces, and especially before preparing food.
Try to avoid large crowds of people. Have a disposable tissue handy for cough or sneezes, or use the bend of your elbow instead.
Avoid touching your face with your hands.
Do your utmost to periodically clean your home, paying close attention to touched surfaces, medical and mobility equipment (walkers, canes, handrails, etc.) used by your elderly loved one.
While avoiding complete social isolation, exercise physical distancing from others as much as possible.
Minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by your elderly loved one by limiting the amount of face-to-face visits. Although this may be a difficult task for your elderly loved one, because they treasure the time they share with other loved family members and friends, it is critical for their well being.
Dr. Arbaje reminds us that, “Physical distancing does not have to mean isolation or loneliness.” We must keep our elderly loved ones safe, but we must not forget that mental health and even immunity can be negatively effected through social isolation.
She continues to point out that seniors should be encouraged to think beyond their social circle of friends and family. “Saying hello to the mail carrier or checking in on neighbors close by can add to a sense of connectedness,” Arbaje says.
Due to the temporary closure of many places of worship, your elderly loved one may feel disconnected. “Faith communities are often a big part of older adults’ social lives,” Arbaje says. As a caregiver, you may be able to help your elderly loved one utilize technology, such as online services or an outreach for spiritual support.
Staying Connected with Technology
Help alleviate loneliness in elderly loved ones, with a sense of purpose and involvement during these difficult times:
Demonstrate a live video chat and teach them how to communicate with others using laptops, tablets or even their smartphone.
Turn the caption settings on whenever available for those with hearing impairments.
Persuade family and friends to reach out to your elderly loved one by method of a telephone call, a traditional letter, or greeting card. This is a great way to lift their spirit and feel loved and appreciated.
Prioritize your elderly loved one’s involvement
Dr. Arabaje recommends giving enjoyable projects that can be worked on by homebound loved ones. “Think about going through and organizing old photos and memorabilia together, and enjoy the stories and happy memories they inspire.
Keep the risk of COVID-19 to a minimum
Whenever possible, postpone unnecessary doctor appointments for a later time. In elderly loved ones that are not ill, help them reconsider or postpone annual check-ups, optional procedures, and other unessential appointments.
One important factor to consider, is that your loved one may have a special bond with their caregiver, particularly those with a chronic illness or physical impairment. Find out if their healthcare physician offers video appointments (telemedicine), which allows patients to video chat with their medical practitioner or email rather than an in person visit.
Avoid travel whenever possible. Strongly consider cancelling unessential travel, especially leisurely vacations, such as trips or cruises that could bring them in contact with large crowds.
Talk to your loved one about the possibility of changes in their daily life in the case that a friend or family member, or if your elderly loved one themselves, should happen to become ill. Being prepared ahead of time can help alleviate stress when handled together as a family.
Choose someone to be your contact in case of an emergency. Choose someone as the back-up caregiver in the case that you might become sick. Someone local to your elderly loved one who is reliable, or a family member would be ideal.
Start stocking up on essentials. Find out about accumulating up to three months worth of prescription medications, food, and other important supplies, such as pet foods and over the counter drugs. Look into mail order services that deliver directly to your residence.
What to do in the event that you or your loved one is showing symptoms or signs of exposure: Do not delay in calling your medical professional
If anyone in your household develops symptoms such as cough, fever or shortness of breath, call your family doctor, nurse helpline or urgent care facility right away. If you or your loved one you are caring for might have come in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, call your family doctor and inform them immediately. For a medical emergency such as severe shortness of breath or high fever, call 911 immediately.