The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed how we interact with one another. As communities strive to slow down the outbreak, we’re coming together for the greater good by staying apart.
So what should a caregiver do? The World Health Organization is encouraging people to refrain from touching their face, cover their sneezes and coughs, wash their hands thoroughly, and self isolate while practicing social distancing.
How can you protect loved ones and still provide the level of care required? We share valuable information on social distancing and how you can still be there for your loved one while staying safe.
What Is Social Distancing?
Social distancing is important for slowing the coronavirus outbreak. In practice, this concept is quite straightforward, following three simple rules:
- Refrain from gathering in groups of people.
- Avoid crowded places.
- Stay at least six feet away from others.
The coronavirus spreads primarily among people who are in close proximity with each other for prolonged periods of time. An infected person, who may not even be experiencing symptoms of the virus, will cough or sneeze, releasing droplets from their mouth and nose into the air. These droplets can land in others’ mouths and noses or even linger in the air, which can be inhaled by people nearby.
While medical professionals are seeing a wide range of severity among infected people, for many, including immunocompromised people and those in senior living facilities, the disease can be severe and even deadly.
The guidelines outlined by local government authorities vary by region, but the main message for most of the U.S. population continues to be emphasizing the importance of social distancing.
But this can be especially difficult for people whose loved ones are in elder care or for those who are acting as caretakers for their aging parents.
How Can I Practice Social Distancing While Caring for My Family?
Caretakers have a lot of responsibilities that require close contact with their loved ones who are in the high risk category for serious complications from COVID-19. While professional caregivers are well-trained in safely interacting with elderly people and should have the protective gear they need, family caregivers might feel uncertain about how to keep their loved ones safe while caring for them on a regular basis.
You can follow social distancing measures while caring for your loved ones in many ways.
- Go for walks outside while maintaining at least six feet of separation. Make sure your loved one has the proper walking assistance devices, like a cane or walker, if needed.
- Reschedule appointments that are not essential. This reduces your loved one’s exposure to more people.
- Coordinate deliveries of essential items, like medications and groceries. This way, as a caretaker, you’re reducing how many people you’re exposed to and, in turn, minimizing the risk of contracting the virus yourself and transmitting it to your loved ones.
- If you’re not able to pay for deliveries, you can shop for necessities yourself, but make sure you’re wearing a cloth face cover and gloves while staying six feet away from other customers in public. Then, drop off the essentials on your loved one’s porch, so they can safely retrieve them without coming too close to you.
It’s important to note that social distancing does not mean you have to completely disconnect from each other. In fact, it’s encouraged that you stay connected during this stressful time.
What Are Some Ways to Stay Connected to Loved Ones While Social Distancing?
During global crises, stress can manifest in disruptive ways, leading to fear and worry about health, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, increased substance abuse, and worsening of chronic health problems.
That stress compounds when you’re forced to socially distance yourself. Not having any physical interaction with other people is detrimental to your physical and mental well-being.
In fact, a scientific study found that 34 percent of quarantined people during the equine influenza outbreak said they experienced high levels of psychological distress.
Simply put, you need to stay connected with your loved ones for the sake of your health and theirs. Thanks to technology, you can stay connected while following social distancing and your elder care plan in several ways:
- Establish a routine of regularly calling your family members who you care for. But don’t just ask how they are. Be present and spark some good conversation that engages them and lifts their mood. For example, ask about their favorite memories, tell them about a book you’re reading, or describe a recipe they’ll enjoy.
- If your loved ones are tech savvy, set up a method for video chats through FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, and the like. Video interactions are great for engaging with them in a more personal, familiar manner. While it’s not in person, the face-to-face nature of video conversations is helpful. Who doesn’t love seeing their family smile?
- Mail them a letter or card. These personalized messages can brighten their day. You can write a letter about a funny memory or you can give them an update on your friends or other family members. If you’re sending a card, include a personal touch, like a printed photograph.
- If it’s in your budget, send gifts that they expressed interest in. For example, if they mentioned that their favorite slippers shrank in the washer, replace them with a new pair. You can also send games they love, like jigsaw puzzles or a deck of cards, and even a bouquet of flowers to add some color to their living space.
- Play online games with them. For example, AARP provides access to a lot of games, including daily crosswords and solitaire. You can have some friendly competition or simply video chat with them while they play on their own to provide some companionship.
- Start a book or movie club. This can coincide with your routine of phone calls or video chats, where you share your opinions on specific books and movies that interest them.
- Participate in virtual events and classes together. Do research and find classes and events related to their interests, then help them enroll and participate. For example, you can watch online courses for gardening or cooking. As you learn together, you can compare your ongoing efforts, which keeps them busy and engaged in a new hobby.
Try to be consistent in your routine of reaching out to them. It’s important to give their day some structure, especially if they’re accustomed to seeing you in person. They can start looking forward to your daily communications, which can elevate their mood and help them feel less isolated and alone.In some cases, you may not be able to reach out as often. That’s understandable. When these situations arise, it can be helpful to have someone reach out in your place. Homethrive offers several services that can assist caregivers during this time. Having additional help can put your mind at ease that your loved one is healthy and receiving the care they need even when you are practicing social distancing.
What Resources Are There for Caregivers to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19?
When it comes to social distancing and an elder care plan, consistency is essential. You want to adhere to the CDC social distancing policy every day to slow the spread of coronavirus and prevent complications with your loved ones.
There are plenty of resources you can turn to to stay informed on prevention best practices, including the following:
- The CDC Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Caring for Someone
- The CDC Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Prevent Getting Sick
- The CDC Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): People Who Need to Take Extra Precautions
- The CDC Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Household Checklist
- WHO Coronavirus Disease Pandemic: Advice for the Public
- The John A. Hartford Foundation: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Resources for Older Adults, Family Caregivers and Health Care Providers
- Homethrive: Resources to Stay Engaged and Connected During COVID-19
- Homethrive: COVID-19 FAQs
When managing long distance elder care during the COVID-19 pandemic, either on your own or with the help of experts, you will likely experience challenges. And that’s okay. Use this time to maintain a strong relationship with elderly family members in fun new ways. Maintaining a safe distance is important to the health and safety of you and your loved one at this time. However, there are ways to help you stay connected and continue to provide care while everyone practices social distancing.
Remember, while this new normal is challenging, the more diligent you are in continuing to follow CDC recommendations, the safer and healthier you and your family will be when it’s once again safe to return to your usual caregiving routine.