Caregiving During The Coronavirus

We are at a critical time during the COVID-19 pandemic. While everyone is on edge, and being inundated with news headlines and new statistics, one population we should keep top of mind is our older friends and families, especially those with cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

This is a complicated situation. Whether your loved one is living in a facility such as assisted living or a nursing home, or they are at home, we as caregivers need to know how to explain the world’s current events in an appropriate and clear manner, but also the best way to protect and care for your own personal health.

First off, older adults often have more health complications, like heart disease, diabetes and hypertension, and are more susceptible to the complications of the coronavirus. I urge everyone to heed the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization — from hand washing to mask wearing. Limit your exposure in public places and stick to social distancing.

Best said: Be smart and be safe.

Alzheimer’s caregivers

Do older adults, especially ones with Alzheimer’s disease, understand the current state of the world? Yes. While some may not fully grasp the complexity and severity this pandemic is having on our communities, our loved ones do sense what’s happening.

Your family member can read your personal energy and can sense stress. From this, they may exhibit more symptoms of anxiety, agitation, cognitive decline, confusion, etc. It is imperative that you communicate as best you can to your loved one often and clear about what’s happening. While they may not need to know the latest specific details or hospital occupancy numbers, explain that there is a virus spreading within the community and that we need to really wash our hands well and stay inside.

Caregiving in the home

For those still being cared for at home, take the common precautions you would for yourself. Adjust your grocery shopping trips (many stores are adding special senior hours), reschedule any doctor appointments you can (perhaps a routine checkup), stock up on necessary medications and communicate with your doctors for any concerns.

Caregiving in a facility

For those who might be in a facility such as assisted living or nursing home, first and foremost understand the visitation policies. Many facilities have adjusted their policies to limit visitation. Speak with the administration to learn not only about visitation, but also what the facility is doing to ensure your loved ones care.

How are they sanitizing the facility more? What extra steps are they taking? It’s your right to be an advocate and ask those important questions.

While you might be frustrated, or even angry if a facility is limiting, or cancelling visitation, please understand these new rules are coming from a good place to protect your family member. Speak with the administration, perhaps they can arrange for a time to speak with your loved one on the phone every few days, or you can deliver food or items, like photos albums or other gifts to stay connected. Be reasonable and understand these facilities may be understaffed.

Advice for caregivers

Some key points that may be helpful to get through this crisis: 

  • Have an open dialogue with your loved one, and with any facilities they may be living in. It’s your right to understand the new policies and communicate that. 
  • Take the necessary precautions for yourself and your family member. Your health is just as imperative.
  • Avoid going out in public spaces. This includes routine, or non-essential doctor visits, grocery shopping, etc. 
  • Stay positive. Understand the latest news and guidelines, but try to remain calm. Your loved one may pick up on the environmental stress and reflect that.

This isn’t an easy time, but together we will get through it. Be reasonable, be understanding and do your best to navigate these uncertain waters, for yourself and your loved one.

The author, Liron Sinvani, MD, is director of Northwell Health’s Geriatric Hospitalist Service and an associate professor of medicine at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. She is also an assistant professor in the Institute of Health Innovations and Outcomes Research at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, where she focuses on improving quality of care of hospitalized older adults.

For more health and wellness news and tips, visit The Well by Northwell at thewell.northwell.edu.

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