According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults and individuals with chronic health conditions are at higher risk of serious illness from the coronavirus. Almost all of the people in the U.S. who have died from COVID-19 have been in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, according to the CDC. This is why we all need to follow the CDC guidelines to practice social distancing from each other. Many of these vulnerable individuals also live in communities where diseases spread quickly such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities. To protect these vulnerable individuals, many outside visitors are being temporarily banned from entering these facilities in hopes of limiting residents’ exposure to someone who may be infected with the virus. While nursing homes and assisted living facilities are a critical point of focus, many individuals who need care currently live in their own homes and could be feeling very isolated and anxious about how they can stay healthy and safe. With already more than 40 million family caregivers helping loved ones with care in the U.S., we expect the virus to increase the number of family caregivers who are providing short-term or long-term care to any older loved one.
AARP wants to offer some guidance to family caregivers, specifically to help them tackle how to create a plan for those they are caring for, and supporting those new to caring for someone due to the virus impacting more of the older population. The key steps include:
1.Pull Together a Team
- Put together a list of individuals in your family or friend network and services in your community that can help you perform some key caregiving tasks.
- While there may be one primary family caregiver, identify other family members, friends and/or neighbors who can check in or help with shopping and important errands. It’s best if the person you’re caring for doesn’t leave their home and stays out of public places.
- Find out if services such as Meals on Wheels can help deliver meals, or if there are other local services to help with food or medication delivery.
2. Inventory Essential Items
Determine how much food, medication, and basic supplies the person you’re caring for has on hand. We recommend, if possible, having a 2-week supply of the following items: food, water, house cleaning supplies, medical materials/equipment, etc.
3. Get Medications in Order and Ask for Extra
- Medical – As a starting point, make sure you have a list of medications, medical contacts, and important information like allergies. If there are upcoming routine medical appointments, reschedule those or, if possible, switch to a virtual visit.
- We recommend having an extra 30-day supply of essential medications on hand.
- Don’t forget over-the-counter medications like cough suppressants and fever reducing drugs like acetaminophen.
4. Create a Plan to Stay Connected
- Isolation is a huge issue as we all begin to follow the social distancing guidance from the CDC. Set up communication using a variety of technology – Facetime or Skype, smart speakers, or simply phone and text with your team. Start using this now so you’re all in frequent communication.
- If possible, check with the facility your loved one is in to see if they have made accommodations for online visits using technology like FaceTime or Skype and how they plan to communicate with families.
- If they can’t support visits via technology like Alexa, Google Home or Facetime visits, send in cards, letters, magazines, puzzles or other items you know your loved one would be happy to get! Talk with your facility management about the safest way to deliver items.
5. Maintain Personal Safety and Self-Care
- In order to be safe and stay healthy, limit contact with visitors, stay in as much as you can and continue to follow guidelines from the CDC on hand washing. While most of us are very focused on the person we are caring for, it is essential to also care for yourself.
- For high risk individuals, such as those with dementia and underlying health conditions, consider having the primary caregiver self-isolate with the care recipient.
- Make sure to have a back-up plan should you get ill as the primary caregiver.
Find local caregiving resources at: www.aarp.org/crf or call 211 - the United Way’s support line.
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