Being a Supportive Caregiver During COVID-19
Many of us are now working from home, keeping our social distance, worrying about our families (especially our older loved ones) and wondering when this will end. We are wondering when we can return to normal, all while trying to keep our stress and anxiety at a manageable level.
Our older loves ones have the same stressors and anxieties. These anxieties are made worse by the new realities of isolation, inactivity and lack of routine. Isolation and the change in one’s routine can have negative mental and physical consequences.
Routine gives our older loved ones a sense of safety and security. It reduces stress and lessens anxiety, giving them a feeling of control and making life more predictable. Routine provides the cues for many of our older loved one’s daily life activities, such as when to take their medications, meal times, bedtime, etc.
Social isolation and loneliness can take a toll on the body. Research shows that isolation and loneliness can cause a significant decline in our older loved one’s health and ability to function. These can be linked to high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, a weakened immune system, depression, anxiety, cognitive decline and early death. Loneliness can be fatal.
Combating loneliness for our older loved ones can pose a challenge during this time of COVID-19. We have limited means of supporting our older loved ones. We have to be creative and persistent.
How can we be supportive when we cannot be physically close?
1. Start with the basics. Encourage them to keep to a daily routine to maintain their basic health:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Keep a journal
- Exercise and get outdoors as much as they are able
- Get restful sleep
2. Keep in touch using technology, such as phone calls, texting, video chat or social media. Use whatever means is most comfortable for your loved one. Just looking forward to upcoming family video chats or phone calls can make someone feel included. Encourage discussion by asking your older family member to share a story. Older adults love to pass on their memories and reminisce about a favorite family time. You may learn things you never knew.
3. Pursue “window visits.” Long-term care facilities have restrictions about visitors, and we in the community are strongly urged to follow the social distancing guidelines – keeping distance from family and friends. “Window visiting” is a way to connect and get a glimpse for yourself on how your older loved one is doing.
4. Arrange for delivery of flowers, groceries, a meal or a favorite treat.
5. Send notecards with a “thinking of you” message. Add recent or old photos with a note on the back.
6. Encourage your loved one to take a break from watching, reading or listening to the news. A continuous stream of never-ending 24/7 information is not good for anyone’s mental health... ever!
We are living in uncertain times; the world we lived in just a month ago is very different than the world we are living in now. History has taught our older loved ones resiliency and what it’s like to live in these times. They have adapted coping skills and strategies that have gotten them through, but it is our job as caregivers to make sure that they feel connected and supported.
Stay safe, stay healthy and stay connected!