COVID-19 has challenged so many aspects of our lives--work, socializing, even running errands. But perhaps the hardest part of this crisis is our inability to visit with loved ones, or our fear of passing the virus to a loved one who is vulnerable right now. There is no “normal” way to be feeling right now, but know that if you’ve been riddled with nerves, anxiety, and stress, you are not alone.
Although we have seen that the virus can affect people of all ages, according to information provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), those at high risk for severe cases of COVID-19 include those over 65 years of age, those living in a nursing home or long-term care facility, those who are immunocompromised, and those living with chronic health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and various lung diseases. Since data from 2012 found that 60% of people over the age of 65 are living with 2 or more of these chronic conditions, many of our loved ones are in a high risk pool for this particular virus.
While the reality of the risk for older loved ones is incredibly scary, there are still ways that you can try to protect and care for your older loved ones, whether you are at home with them or supporting them from afar.
Caring For Older Loved Ones At Home With You
If your elderly loved one lives with you, then your primary responsibility becomes making sure that everyone in your household abides by the social distancing rules in order to prevent the virus from entering your home. Unfortunately, new data suggests that up to 25 percent of those infected with the novel coronavirus are asymptomatic and are able to unknowingly spread it to others. For this reason, it is imperative to follow all the preventative CDC guidelines regardless of whether or not you or anyone else in your house is showing symptoms.
In addition to limiting your contact with people outside of the home, the experts suggest carrying antibacterial with you and using it after your hands make contact with foreign surfaces, washing your hands thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds, and avoid touching your hands, nose, or mouth with unsterilized hands. Although the CDC has not made masks mandatory for everyone, with the high percentage of asymptomatic carriers, some experts are now suggesting that masks (or any clean cloth that can cover your nose and mouth, such as a scarf, or t-shirt) should be worn when you leave the house as a further preventative measure.
Caring For Older Loved Ones At Home Alone
One of the hardest aspects of this situation is the fact that those who live alone now run the risk of becoming isolated and depressed without having the ability to leave the house or to see others. This is especially true of the elderly population. If you have a parent or loved one who lives alone and is at risk of developing complications from COVID-19, here’s what you can do:
Put a plan in place. Make sure that you are on the same page about what your older loved one needs right now. If the thought of getting sick makes them incredibly anxious, talk to them about what it would mean if you stop coming to visit with them. Or, if they would feel better still having you come into their home everyday, make sure you put protocol in place to disinfect any outside items, such as groceries, or packages, and to wash or sanitize your hands upon entry. It may seem overwhelming at first, but the more you follow these practices, the more normal they will become.
Invite them to come live with you. If you’ve all been following the guidelines, you might decide that the best course of action is to self-quarantine together as a unit. Bringing your loved one into your home may give you both more peace of mind in knowing that you can weather this storm together. In some cases, extended families that have been self-quarantining together have been choosing to self-isolate within their own homes for 10-14 days to make sure they are in the clear before co-mingling with the others. This would require each party to stay within their own designated areas within the home so that they can avoid the spread of germs.
Know what medications they take and make sure they get refills. Whether you bring an older loved one to live with you or not, pay attention to their medications and offer to refill prescriptions for them when they are running low. You can drop it off at their house and leave it by the door if they do not want you to come inside. This could also be a good time to sign up for mail order prescriptions to avoid going out to the pharmacy. If your loved one already receives their medication by mail, be sure to update the address with the carrier should they be staying with you while under this stay at home order.
Stay well-informed. There is an abundance of information available online, and not all of it is accurate. In order to make the best decisions for you and your family, it’s important that you’re working with the right set of facts. Resources such as AARP, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Centers for Disease Control and your local newspapers are all reliable sources of information that you can depend on during this time.
Caring For Older Loved Ones In A Senior Living Facility
Having a loved one who lives in a senior living community, a nursing home, or who is currently in a rehab facility is especially challenging right now, as many of these facilities have become vulnerable to the spread of the virus. Across the country, nursing homes have put policies in place that bar family members from visiting their loved ones for fear of bringing the virus into their establishment. If your loved one is in one of these facilities that is under lockdown, unfortunately there is not much that you will be able to do to see or help care for them. People across the country, however, have found ways to get creative about “visiting” their loved ones, from dropping off laundry and care packages to visiting with loved ones through a window to celebrating anniversaries from afar.
For those states that are not yet in lockdown, there is a chance that you might be able to take your loved one out of the community or nursing home and bring them back to your house. If they require special care, however, you must make sure that your home is equipped to support their health needs before bringing them back to your house. For example, if your loved one has limited mobility, is there room in your home for a wheelchair? Or, if they have kidney disease, will you have access to a dialysis machine? And for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, a move to an unfamiliar place can lead to agitation and aggression, which can be hard to manage without the proper training.
Unfortunately, in this situation there is no right answer--it will be a personal decision that each family will have to make by weighing out the risks of their specific situation.
Check the Medical Guardian website regularly for more coronavirus information, articles and helpful checklists.