Dear Rita: I recently moved from the Midwest to be closer to my 83-year-old dad, who lives alone and is becoming more forgetful. Following a period of quarantine, I decided to become his primary caregiver, and I currently live with him. Being a caregiver is new to me, and everything seems harder during the pandemic. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Can you give me some care tips and suggestions for connection and help? — R.J., Richmond
Dear R.J.: Caring for a loved one is a complicated journey. When it comes to caring in the midst of Covid-19, you may be experiencing a rapidly changing trajectory of unexpected health crises, along with ever-changing information and tips about the virus. The emotional roller coaster of uncertainty adds a new element to the challenges of caregiving.
Basic precautions. The most important piece of advice I have for you as the caregiver is to take care of yourself and use all the precautions to avoid becoming infected.
By this point, we’ve all heard the recommendations to wash our hands frequently. When caregiving, it’s especially important to do this before and after you interact with your dad, prepare his food and touch common surfaces.
If your dad has some memory impairment, he will need extra reminders and support to remember important hygienic practices. Clean frequently touched surfaces in your home often, including medical and mobility equipment used by your loved one. And, of course, wear a mask when leaving the home.
For complete guidance, please refer to the CDC guidelines at tinyurl.com/rita-cdc19.
Take care of his medical needs. To minimize exposure, many health care providers are offering appointments with telemedicine, which Medicare and other insurance providers have now expanded to cover.
It’s a good idea to stay in frequent touch with your dad’s doctor to resolve arising health issues before they become acute enough to necessitate an in-person visit. In addition, you can get prescriptions by mail or ask your dad’s doctor about writing prescriptions for a greater number of days to decrease trips to the pharmacy.
Engaging your dad. What can you do together? Practicing physical distancing is essential, but preventing social isolation is just as important. Research shows that prolonged social isolation can lead to negative health outcomes, such as depression, anxiety and risk of heart disease.
Creating connections for you and your dad with and without technology can reduce the lethal byproducts of loneliness. Making phone calls to friends and family, reading to your dad, having him write a note to a family member or friend are all ways to engage him.
In addition, technology can definitely help older adults feel involved, purposeful and less lonely during the pandemic. If you can help your dad to video chat with others, it will go a long way toward putting a smile on his face. These chats can also give you a break from caregiving. Ask for help and encourage family and friends to call your dad. You can also “attend” online events and concerts together, or tour museums (many have developed virtual tours).
If your dad isn’t up to speed on technology, a resource that may be helpful is Senior Planet, which offers virtual classes (about Zoom and other platforms) and a Stuck at Home Guide (about safe and secure video chatting).
Another important goal for your dad’s well-being (and yours) is ensuring time for movement. Perhaps you can take a walk together or turn on some music and dance. This will go a long way to nurture your soul and body. Make a point to sit less and move more.
Hiring help during Covid-19. Another idea is to hire nonmedical home-care support, both to give you a break and to take care of your dad. Ask to see the agency’s protocols on providing care during the pandemic.
It’s scary to let anyone new into your dad’s home, since they will be bringing in their exposures. Any caregivers should be vigilant about wearing personal protective equipment and washing their hands upon arrival and regularly throughout their time in your dad’s home.
The ideal care arrangement will have consistency, meaning that the same caregiver will be assigned to your dad. The agency should be tracking the caregiver’s travel history, absence of respiratory symptoms, temperature checks and so on.
Agencies and programs. Another way to get support is to take advantage of volunteer programs that help with grocery shopping or tech setup, or provide reassurance phone calls. Sometimes we need that extra compassion and support. There are telephone services that your or your dad can use, including the Institute on Aging’s Friendship Line or AARP Friendly Voices. Access these and other resources via your local Area Agency on Aging, which can be found at www.n4a.org.
Remember, you are not alone on this journey.
Reach out to organizations that provide online support groups and other important services to family caregivers, including respite care. Keeping yourself rested and reducing your caregiver burden is the key to your dad’s well-being.
The Family Caregiver Alliance, Alzheimer’s Association and Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay all have programs and support groups for family caregivers. JFCS can be reached at (925) 927-2000, ext. 257
This new role that you are embarking on is difficult and can sometimes feel lonely. We all need human connection, companionship and help when faced with caregiving challenges. In addition, we must hold onto the hope that life will improve in the not-too-distant future. Taking care of your dad during this time may be one of the most meaningful things you ever do.