Family caregivers often find themselves navigating unchartered waters. Some learn how to change dressings on a senior’s wound after surgery, while others master tasks like grooming and bathing. Adult children may even learn how to protect a loved one’s dignity when dementia is trying to rob them of it. The newest challenge for family caregivers is among the most serious— the novel coronavirus.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this new strain in a family of viruses wasn’t found in humans prior to 2019. Also referred to as COVID-19, it is a serious condition that causes fever, headache, cough, and breathing problems. In serious cases, it can lead to kidney failure and severe respiratory issues that may result in death.
Because COVID-19 is especially dangerous for seniors, isolation is often recommended, as are good hygiene and healthy self-care.
Caring for a Senior at Home During a Pandemic
1. Frequent handwashing: One of the best ways to prevent getting sick is to wash your hands in hot, soapy water throughout the day. This guide from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines a 5-step process for proper handwashing.
2. Use hand sanitizer: While hot water and soap will always be the best option, hand sanitizer can help when you are out in public and don’t have access to a restroom. Choose one that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
3. Don’t touch your face: Most people don’t realize how many times an hour they touch their face until they try not to do so. A quick rub of the eye or a scratch on the nose happens more often than you think. If you’ve been exposed to a virus and have it on your hands, touching your face can easily transfer the bug.
4. Take good care: A healthy diet combined with exercise and a good night’s sleep help keep your immune system strong. That’s vital for fighting off viruses of all kinds.
5. Limit public activity: Social distancing is another important step in protecting a senior family member from COVID-19 and other viruses. To the extent that you can, avoid going out in public while viruses are spreading. Utilize services like home delivered meals, drive-through pharmacies, and online shopping wherever possible.
6. Screen all visitors: Be vigilant about limiting who can visit your home or the home of your loved one during this time. People who are out in public may be carrying the virus and not showing any symptoms. By allowing others into your home, you are placing yourself and your loved one at risk.
7. Explore virtual physician visits: If a senior has a routine medical appointment scheduled, call the physician’s office. Many doctors are moving to virtual visits until the pandemic is under control.
Supporting a Loved One When You Can’t Be There
If your aging parent or another senior loved one resides in an assisted living community, you may not be able to visit during an outbreak of the flu or a pandemic emergency. This can be stressful for all involved. Finding ways to stay connected can help keep everyone’s spirits up.
Here are a few suggestions for doing so:
- Use technology: Have virtual face-to-face conversations with your senior family member using a video chat platform like Skype or FaceTime. While phone calls are always nice, being able to see one another can help decrease anxiety and a sense of isolation for everyone. If your loved one doesn’t own a device or isn’t comfortable with technology, call the community to ask for help. Someone on the staff will be willing and able to provide assistance.
- Write letters and cards: Organize a letter-writing campaign to ensure your family member knows they aren’t forgotten. Ask friends and family members to send cards and letters as much as possible. Another nice gesture would be to call the activities staff at the community and see if there are residents who don’t have family. The staff might be able to arrange for you to be pen pals with them during this time of forced isolation.
- Send care packages: Unless the community has restricted deliveries, take advantage of online shopping. Send the senior books, daily devotionals, journals, and even craft kits. Activities they can enjoy with fellow residents, such as games, puzzles, and movies, will also be appreciated.
- Make family videos: Round up loved ones and ask them to email or text your family member with family videos. Make them lighthearted and fun! For example, have the kids or grandkids read jokes or perform dance moves. Anything that makes you laugh will likely make them laugh, too.
Dementia and COVID-19
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, having dementia doesn’t increase a person’s risk for contracting COVID-19. However, some behavior-related issues linked to dementia might. Also, because people with dementia are typically older, their odds of getting the virus are higher.
One risk for those who experience memory loss is that they may forget to wash their hands or refrain from touching their face. Both are known risk factors for viruses of all types.
Another complicating factor is if a senior with dementia has lost or impaired verbal skills. They may be unable to communicate that they have a headache or are experiencing chest pain, two symptoms of COVID-19.
Here are a few suggestions that may help you lower your family members risk for the illness:
- Model good behavior: Cough into your elbow. Rinse your hands often and encourage your senior loved one to do the same.
- Be on guard for symptoms: Watch for signs of a fever, such as sweating or a flushed face. Also, pay attention to a cough or if the senior is breathing differently or struggling for breath. Increased confusion may also be a warning sign.
- Disinfect the environment: Wipe the senior’s environment down with bleach wipes on a frequent basis. It’s better to overreact to the situation than to underreact.
Stay Updated on the COVID-19 Pandemic
Finally, learning more about COVID-19 and staying informed about changes in the state of the pandemic is important. While it’s not necessary to watch the news stations around the clock, staying updated on new information is a method of self-protection.
Here are two resources you can turn to for novel coronavirus education and updates:
Most states and local governments also share frequent updates on the pandemic. Call your local officials to learn more.
If you or a family member is a resident of a Sunrise Senior Living community, visit COVID-19: We Are Prepared to learn the steps we are taking to keep residents and team members safe.