How to Care for the Elderly During the Shutdown

By on April 29, 2020
Care

Globally most should know by now that the COVID-19 virus has a higher chance of negatively affecting older adults—defined by the CDC as those 65 and older. Regardless of where you reside now (April 2020) in the world, these are the baseline tips to care for people in this age group:

  • Stay home;
  • Wash your hands often;
  • Avoid close contact (six feet, which is about two arm lengths) with people who are sick;
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched services;
  • Avoid all cruise travel and non-essential air travel;
  • Call your healthcare professional if you have concerns about COVID-19 and your underlying condition or if you are sick.

What if your loved ones are in an assisted living facility?

Many US senior housing facilities are under orders to not allow visitors for the foreseeable future. Some aren’t allowing any outside packages to enter as well. Others are taking residents’ temperatures daily or twice a day. Many are following stricter cleaning regimens and hiring outside companies to provide even more stringent CDC-approved cleaning.

Assurances and tips

Here are some tips from the assisted living side of the pandemic and how to care for those who have loved ones in “shelter in place”.

In assisted living communities, operators are at the mercy of the Department of Health as to how they can operate safely.  Navigating through this creates stress for the families because it changes as the parameters change.  The big question is: “How to care for mom when I can’t even visit her?”

According to Executive Director Kaylynn Evans at Vineyard Bluffton, a senior housing community SC, the following tips will help you communicate with your parent as well as ease your mind.

  1. Use some old-fashioned communication, she says. Mail a letter each day with a fun activity like crossword puzzles, funny jokes, and specific activities that they do with a pencil and paper. Have the grandkids draw or color a picture a day and mail it on separate days so that they get the mail each day.  Pick a pretty flower, press it between a book, and send it in a card. Send a favorite tea bag in a card and say that you will call her and you can have tea together while you chat. 
  2. Become best friends with the activity director (sometimes called Life Enrichment Director).  They will have to set up separate care plans for each person now that group activities are no longer allowed.  She or he will appreciate the ideas that you can give to care for your elder friend and it can spread joy to others.  She is probably out of ideas and very stressed with how she can cheer everyone up if they are quarantined to their rooms.  Remember that how you care for the staff of your loved ones’ community has a direct relationship with how staff continues to stay motivated with fresh energy.  Be that energy giver and not the energy zapper.
  3. Become a friend to your loved one’s friends. Your mom or dad has you…others don’t have anyone.  If you do a deed for mom, double your effort and do for the person across the hall or on both sides of mom or dad’s room.
  4. Become a researcher once again of what your mom or dad did in their past. Do you really know their story? Call and ask specific questions about things that you have forgotten about as if you are a news reporter writing an article.  Everyone, no matter what age, loves to talk to someone with a genuine interest in their story.  Have questions ready and take notes.  Who knows? You may discover something that will make a difference in yours and your families’ lives.
  5. Become tech-savvy. If you don’t have a Zoom or Skype account, get one.  Make an appointment often to talk and stick to that schedule.  Let the staff know and have them help set it up for you.  They will be happy to do that.
  6. Be at peace.  It is important that the conversation not be about statistics, deaths, sickness, how strange the empty shops and roads are, but to talk about beauty in the new spring buds, the birds singing, a favorite song, and what “we” will do when we get together again.

This tip to cultivate Zen is a very important one. You will find that you will both be cathartic in traversing this time together with renewed strength for the next challenge.

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How to Care for the Elderly During the Shutdown