Back in February, I celebrated my 60th birthday by running in the Disney Princess 10k with Chris and two of our children. That celebration allowed us to travel to Orlando, stay on property at Disney World, stand in a crowds comprised of thousands of runners for hours before the race, and then afterwards enjoy a day at Epcot. We noticed people wearing masks but didn’t worry too much about it. The Coronavirus was like the flu, right? Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and be smart and you should be fine. And then our world changed. Over the next few weeks more information emerged, and less than a month after returning from Orlando we moved our office staff to working from home, met with all of our CAREGivers to review safety practices when working with our clients, and began to learn how to practice social distancing and self-isolation. Eight weeks later, we are still diligently working to support our clients and their families, our office team, and our CAREGivers as we move from day to day wondering when this will end and life can return to “normal”. COVID-19 has certainly made a significant impact on all our lives over the past several months!
For family caregivers some things may have changed drastically while others have remained amazingly consistent. Grocery store runs have become like scavenger hunts for such mundane items as toilet paper or meat products. All our hair salons and nail salons were forced to close. Even obtaining basic prescription drugs from the pharmacy could be a challenge with delayed shipping times and limited visits from pharmaceutical reps. The virus has disrupted such unexpected industries as auto parts manufacturing and sales, shipping, travel and tourism, and retail sales everywhere. Amazon has seen remarkable growth, and UPS and USPS report volumes similar to Christmas! Family caregivers everywhere struggle to balance the wants and needs of aging loved ones with the cautions and constraints the virus has placed on everything in our world. Social isolation and distancing is the order of the day, but one that is universally detrimental to older adults, because research shows that social engagement promotes increased brain function, enhanced emotional health, improved dietary habits and better overall physical health. Older adults who are socially active have more reasons to live, and they live longer and more satisfying lives.
How can you help your vulnerable older family members stay safe at home, but at the same time keep up their social interaction with friends and family members who might not be self-isolating like they should be? The answer might be easier than you think. Modern technology enables us to be, and feel, connected even when we are far apart. While nothing takes the place of a warm and hearty embrace, six feet of distance make that impossible. The next best thing might be a video call over a smart phone or tablet. Some tablets, like GrandPad, are designed to be senior-friendly with larger apps and use of cellular technology if WiFi is not available in the home. Playing games like Bingo or Solitaire can help with brain function, and some games like these are designed to allow for online opponents to increase social engagement. Sharing pictures frequently can help a loved one feel more connected when they cannot attend events like weddings, baptisms, and funerals. These events are all important family gatherings, and extremely dangerous to older family members during the pandemic. Even more frequent phone calls from distanced family members can break up the monotony of a lonely day. And, contrary to popular belief, it is still safe to let a professional caregiver supplement the care you give. These wonderful people, if hired through a reputable agency, are well trained in infection control as well as social distancing and self-isolation. The agency will have safety measures in place to monitor employee health and won’t knowingly send a sick employee to care for your loved one.
As many people begin to emerge from their forced hibernation, we all need to remember that the virus is still present. Self-isolating and social distancing has flattened the curve for hospitals and medical intervention in many areas, but for now there is no vaccine and none of us has an immunity to the virus. It is still developing in and being spread by people who may not even know they are sick. What can you do to continue to protect those you care for?
For starters, continue to be smart. Wash your hands throughout the day, and every time you go out into the community try not to touch things like door handles, railings, and counters. Don’t touch your face while you are out. Wear disposable gloves if you have access to them. Wear a mask if you have symptoms. Don’t gather in close, large groups. Basically, keep doing what you have been doing. Until a vaccine is available, your older loved ones are still the most vulnerable population, and your extraordinary measures taken now can save lives.
The Centers for Disease Control continues to update their website with current information about the virus. Click here to get the latest updates.
Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver dot com and share your heart about coping strategies as we find ways to resume living with COVID-19.