Navigating the health care system and managing as a family caregiver is already challenging, but it’s become even more complex amidst the COVID-19 crisis. The following tips are meant to help you and your loved one through this difficult time. Remember, at Aging Life Network our team is just a phone call away. We’re standing by to offer you the support you need.
1. Put Plans in Place
Now is the time to have conversations about end-of-life care. If these conversations have already happened, confirm that those original plans are still valid. It’s a good idea to organize the documents around end-of-life decisions, as well as any other health-related paperwork including:
- Power of attorney for health care
- Living wills and POLST forms (practitioner orders for life-sustaining treatment)
- A list of all medications being taken as well as the dose, the prescribing doctor and a note about why it’s being taken
- An emergency contact list
- Photo ID and insurance information
- Contact information for a patient advocacy organization in your area like the Greater National Advocates or the Aging Life Care Association
Keep in mind that if your senior loved one needs emergency care you will likely not be able to accompany them, in which case it will be critical to ensure this paperwork is ready should you need to send it to the hospital with your loved one.
2. Stay Safe While Treating a Loved One at Home
Many COVID-19 patients are being treated at home, at least until symptoms become critical and there is no other choice but to go to the hospital. Caregivers should be careful to maintain a safe quarantine and it’s also wise to keep a diary of symptoms.
For caregivers who do not live with a family loved one, it will be important to:
- Check up via phone or video call regularly
- Attend telemedicine sessions if possible. Make a list of questions for the doctor ahead of time so you are organized and efficient in your use of their time
- Respect your loved ones’ need to self-isolate and keep away
- Keep an eye out for signs your loved one is having difficulty breathing or is otherwise deteriorating and in need of emergency care.
For caregivers who live with a family loved one who has been diagnosed with COVID-19:
- Isolate from your loved one within your home
- Be sure to keep a safe distance from your loved one
- Sanitize all surfaces regularly
- Wash your hands frequently
- Do not touch your face
- Participate in medical care via teleconferencing or via speakerphone so you can stay up-to-date in updates on your loved one’s medical care. Make a list of questions for the doctor ahead of time so you are organized and efficient in your use of their time.
- Of course, if you live with a loved one with COVID-19 then you’ll both need to self-isolate.
- Keep an eye out for signs your loved one is having difficulty breathing or is otherwise deteriorating and needs emergency care.
3. Follow Nursing Home Protocols Closely
Now is an extremely fearful time for those caregivers who have a loved one in a nursing home, especially as you’re unable to visit or see for yourself how your loved one is doing. Many families are wondering whether they should move loved ones out of their nursing home and in with family, but Kate Granigan, CEO of Lifecare Advocates in Newton suggests against such a move. These communities are closed for new admissions, which means that “once you’ve taken your loved one out of a protected environment, even though it may feel risky, you can’t return them once that care at home becomes too difficult or overwhelming,” Granigan told WBZ NewsRadio.
Instead, the best thing to do is to follow the nursing home’s guidelines and trust that the staff are doing their best to keep your loved one safe. Call the facility and ask staff how to best coordinate calls with your loved one. In many cases it’s a great idea to communicate directly with a staff member you already know via text/video calls so you can receive trusted updates and see your loved one for yourself. Before you end the call be sure to book a time to call again.
4. Pack Carefully for the Hospital
If your loved one does need to go to the hospital, it’s critical to leave all valuables at home, but do pack:
- All medications
- All health documentation
- A cellphone, tablet, and chargers. This may be the only way you can communicate with your loved one
- Extra socks
- Notebook and pen
5. Take Extra Care of a Loved One with Dementia as well as Yourself
People with dementia and their caregivers are at an increased risk during this time. Those with dementia may be additionally confused as their routines are thrown out of whack, and regular hand washing or social distancing may not be possible for them to do on their own.
For home caregivers, it will be a difficult time as some of the supports that have been critical to date are no longer available. This article from Healthline offers advice for family caregivers as they face the difficult and isolating task of caring for their loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s during the pandemic.
Remember, you’re not alone. The team at Aging Life Network is available by phone to answer your questions and offer the support you need during this time.