Caregiving for the Elderly During Coronavirus and COVID-19
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has affected everything in our lives, including how we care for the elderly during the pandemic. Adults 65 years old and older and individuals with underlying health conditions are still at risk of getting infected with the coronavirus.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, senior centers, respite centers, and other activities for the elderly have been closed to protect against the further spread of the contagious disease. In some instances, seniors who once had respite caregivers or friends who were volunteer caregivers were no longer able to help with caregiving.
As a way of getting older adults the continued care that they need, the Administration for Community Living (ACL), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded $955 in grants to local communities.
The ACL’s financial support shows how caregivers, whether a family member or paid professional, are playing a major role in helping older adults manage their mental and physical health during this unprecedented time.
Tips For Caregivers
COVID-19 infections have picked up in some states, and restrictions are tightening again. So, health officials are advising seniors to remain at home, as much as possible. AARP has seven suggestions for caregivers, which involves helping seniors to:
1. Stay connected to family and friends. Develop a plan to help older adults keep in touch with others on a regular basis. Whether it’s by phone, a virtual visit, or text messages, caregivers can help older adults to navigate smartphones or laptops to communicate with family and friends.
2. Limit news consumption. Watching too much news during a public crisis can negatively affect a person’s mental and physical health. One study reviewed in a report in the May 2020 issue of Health Psychology, found that people who watched several hours of television in the days of 9/11 suffered increased post-traumatic stress and onset of new physical problems two to three years later.
3. Care for living things. Caring for a pet or plant improves a person’s mental and physical health because it gives the person a sense of purpose and improves mental stimulation, among other things.
4. Stay healthy. Keeping physically active during the pandemic is crucial for older adults. Whether it’s walking or light exercise, movement helps calm tension. Eating well-balanced meals, avoiding excessive alcohol and drug consumption, and getting adequate sleep all contribute to keeping the body healthy.
5. Keep busy indoors. This is the perfect time for older adults to take up a hobby, clean closets, basements or garages, or work on other overdue projects. This takes attention and energy away from the ongoing COVID-19 health threat.
6. Find ways to laugh. There’s certainly nothing amusing about COVID-19. But, releasing the tension, fear, and anxiety through laughter can improve everyone’s health. Find out what your loved one or client enjoys, whether it’s certain movies, comedians, television shows, or telling jokes. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter has positive effects, such as relieving stress, soothing tension, relieving pain, and improving the immune system.
7. Keep Their Minds Active. Reading, listening to music, working puzzles (jigsaw, crossword, sudoku) or art projects keeps an older adult’s mind occupied and improves cognitive functioning.
Depending on the health of your loved one or client, the older adult may enjoy going for a ride or a brief walk around the yard or around the block, with your assistance, and wearing a face cloth. Taking a walk has several health benefits, such as improving mood, strengthening muscles and bones, and improving balance and coordination.
Caring For Older Adults With Dementia
COVID-19 added more complications to the already challenging task of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. In addition to helping to manage dementia and supervising the person in the advanced stage of dementia, caregivers must also reduce the older adult’s risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus disease.
Doctor’s offices were shut down in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. Most offices have reopened and patients are able to have in-person visits with their doctors. This means family members or caregivers can take their loved one or client for an in-person examination to determine how far dementia has progressed.
Because of the pandemic, any changes in the person’s behavior may be due to COVID-19 or other infections. Besides the common COVID-19 symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises caregivers to look for increased agitation, confusion, sudden sadness, and other behavioral changes in older adults with dementia.
They may also show common physical COVID-19 symptoms, which include:
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle pain
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
If the doctor hospitalizes your loved one or client, the CDC further advises caregivers to let hospital staff know that you might be needed to help care for the older adult, especially if the senior does not want to cooperate with the hospital staff administering treatment.
Caregivers Must Take Care of Themselves
The CDC describes caregivers as first responders since they are the first line of response and defense for their clients or loved ones.
In many cases, a caregiver’s focus stays on the person or people that they take care of each day, and not on themselves. However, the stress of caregiving and worries over the public health crisis can take a heavy toll on caregivers.
Because of this, the CDC offers suggestions on how caregivers can care for themselves to avoid burnout, fatigue, and sickness:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Establish a regular time for eating
- Avoid using alcohol and drugs
- Get plenty of sleep
- Take time to do regular exercise to reduce stress and anxiety
- Take breaks from watching the news and reading social media
- Take time to unwind. Do activities you enjoy
- Stay connected to your family and friends
- Find a support group for caregivers, if necessary
- Have a backup caregiver in case you get sick or want to take a break for a few days.
Most importantly, whether an older adult or caregiver, social distancing, wearing a face cloth in public, and avoiding crowds are important steps to take to stay well and avoid exposure to COVID-19.