News about COVID-19 fills every airway. There is information about social distancing, tips for staying healthy and guidelines if you think you are ill. But there has been little, if any, discussion about how to handle this crisis as a caregiver for an older adult or someone in another high-risk category. How can you best manage their physical and emotional needs, and what can you do to take care of yourself?
As a caregiver
• Create a household plan based on the needs and routines of your loved one. Discuss the plan with family members, talk with neighbors about emergency planning and create an emergency contact list. Ask physicians to fill prescriptions to cover more days.
• Develop a contingency plan should the home health aide or you, the primary caregiver, become ill.
• Manage your loved one’s emotional health. Outbreaks can be stressful for older adults. Talk with them about your efforts to keep them safe.
• Find ways to remind loved ones about hygiene: Post written reminders around your home to help them remember.
• Be mindful of your loved one’s loneliness and find ways to address their need for social contact. This quarantine may be particularly confusing and upsetting for older loved ones, who may struggle to understand why no one is visiting. Help them to maintain a regular schedule. Encourage them to read, listen to music or watch favorite movies. Call them regularly.
Take care of yourself
• Be informed, but try not to over-consume information on the pandemic.
• Take care of your own emotional health. It is natural to feel stress, anxiety and worry. Self-care will enable you to think clearly now and recover more quickly afterwards. Take time to unwind, and find ways to enjoy simple pleasures. Practice mindfulness using meditation. Many offer free trials or discounts.
• Reach out to those you love by calling or texting. Ask for and offer reassurance as best you can.
• Take care of your body: Use this time to eat healthy meals, exercise and catch up on sleep.
• Find ways to add color to your day: Watch a Broadway show through video streaming, take a virtual visit to the zoo or tour an art museum online. Explore a new hobby. Find time each day to go outside.
• Pay attention to your own need for social connection. It is vitally important that we maintain our support network. Consider FaceTiming or video chatting with friends. Have a virtual lunch or coffee date. Stay connected on social media.
• Look to the future with hope by holding on to the things that bring you joy.
Lisa Weitzman is program manager at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging in Cleveland.
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