COVID-19 is called a “novel” coronavirus because it is a relatively new germ. We don’t know a lot about it, so things change quickly. And it’s unfolding in different ways and at different rates across the country. That’s why it’s important to stay in touch concerning local policies and resources. Here are materials we have created for you, or gathered from credible sources, to guide you in providing optimal physical and emotional support to your older loved one. If you would like specific guidance regarding your loved one’s unique situation, give us a call at (530) 232-5543, or toll-free (866) 495-1641 to schedule a planning session.
Quarterly newsletters for families:
Prevention and caring strategies
Those who have done some planning and made arrangements ahead of time fare far better should the worst happen, than those who have not. Not only is an ounce of prevention worth a very big pound of cure, but in the distress of bad news, should it happen, it’s nice to have all the supplies you need at the ready and a plan for what you will do. Clear thinking is not at its strongest when we’re dealing with something as scary as an active case of COVID-19.
Here are strategies to help you ahead of time:
- Current mask guidelines – The virus changes over time, which means we need to adapt. Stay up-to-date on the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding the most effective mask strategies.
- Cleaning and disinfecting – CDC infographic
- Connecting with doctors. Ask how to handle up-coming appointments, especially those for monitoring or treating chronic conditions. Ask about signs that a problem is developing and what you should do. Find out about telehealth options.
- Stocking up. Shortages may occur, and even online delivery services are having later than usual shipping dates. Help your loved one stock up on the following:
- Medications. The recommendation is to have a 90-day supply. Doctors and pharmacies are making it very easy to get 90 day’s worth. They understand the value of stocking up.
- Groceries. Try to have several weeks’ supply on hand.
- Medical supplies (hearing aid batteries, ostomy supplies, oxygen, etc.) Confirm any changed delivery patterns due to the pandemic.
- Getting prepared in case of illness
- Supplies list for the home and sick room
- Planning steps for patients and families – Prepare to Care in conjunction with the National Patient Advocate Foundation. Emphasis is on those who live in a single family home or apartment. Includes planning for medications, money and bills, pets, choosing a medical decision-maker, and what to bring to the hospital if things get serious.
- Checklist for Older Adults – CDC. Emphasis is on those who live in long-term care facilities (retirement communities, assisted living, continuing care retirement communities…). Includes getting ready in case you get COVID, if there is an outbreak in your community, advice for administrators and staff (useful for families to know what questions to ask), and advice for families of residents.
Caring for someone who is sick
What if you, the primary caregiver, gets sick?
Clearly you must take care of yourself (see the 10 steps for managing at home), but you also need to have a plan in place for others to step in for a few weeks and manage the things you currently do for your loved one. An Aging Life Care Professional can help with this. Give us a call at (530) 232-5543, or toll-free (866) 495-1641.
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- Start by making a list of all the things you do and who might be able to take over in your stead:
- Fill pill boxes and order prescription refills
- Grocery shopping and other errands
- Monitor and order medical supplies
- Monitor and help to manage symptoms of chronic conditions (daily blood pressure and weight check, insulin testing for diabetics). Knowing when to call the doctor
- Pay bills and manage money
- Provide transportation to the doctor
- Work with the doctors and special therapists (physical therapy, speech therapy), home health or hospice nurses.
- Coordinate with outside services (home care, oxygen, meals on wheels, gardeners)
- Help with cooking and cleaning
- Assist with bathing, grooming, dressing, eating, toileting.
- Write instructions for things that are especially complicated. Concentrate only on those things that truly need to be done a particular way (e.g., a medical procedure, making a telehealth appointment). This is an extraordinary time, so allow leeway for things to be done differently from the way you might prefer. If there is not a long-lasting consequence to a deviation in method, that’s okay. The important part is that the task is accomplished rather than forgotten.
- Pick someone to coordinate all the helpers. It’s a job to orchestrate all the helpers and be sure everyone is coming through with their parts. Who would be best for this? Give them a call and ask if they can step in. Explain your list and answer questions. (You might also want to pick an alternate in case your first choice is also down with the coronavirus.)
Advance care planning
Perhaps your loved one has already prepared an advance directive and named a medical decision-maker. Great! Of course we all hope none of that will be necessary, but just in case, find the document and review it. There may be things that need updating: contact information for decision-makers, or perhaps a change in who is making decisions.
Have your loved one talk with the medical decision-maker about desires should things get serious. (We have some discussion tips and information below that is specifically related to COVID-19). These are sensitive topics. As Aging Life Care Professionals, we can help facilitate this conversation.
And if the person you care for has not yet completed an advanced directive and named a decision-maker, now is an excellent time to get all of that in place. Let us help. Give us a call at (530) 232-5543, or toll-free (866) 495-1641.
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Public health data and research
For those who want to stay on top of the latest data and breaking developments—or even contribute to scientific understanding of the pandemic—here are important credible resources:
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center – Includes data about tests conducted; confirmed cases; and total deaths. All are displayed on a world map by country, a U.S. map by county (updated daily), as well as tracking of trending data displayed by animated maps.
Center for Disease Control – Includes number of U.S. cases confirmed; mortality rates; hospitalization rates and outcomes; and hospital capacity data.
National Institutes of Health – Information on latest studies concerning vaccines, testing, etc.
Stanford University Family Caregiver Study – Share your experience of caring for a loved one during the pandemic. The person you care for does not need to have COVID. This anonymous questionnaire is designed simply to help understand the issues family caregivers face in these unusual times. Your answers may contribute to the development of helpful programs.
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Weighing risks for the unvaccinated
Life is a series of trade-offs. Calculated risks. During this pandemic, that trade-off seems to translate into health and safety vs. quality of life: What makes life worth living? Typically, adult children are worried about their aging parents’ health and safety. Older adults are more focused on their quality of life.
For those who have not yet been vaccinated, deciding what you want to do becomes a matter of reducing the risk of exposure. No one can guarantee safety, but these considerations might help as you assess—and help your parent assess—what activities seem worth the risk.
Is your loved one at risk of a serious bout with COVID?
According to the CDC, in addition to advanced age, high risk conditions include:
- Heart, lung and kidney conditions
- A compromised immune system due to an organ transplant
How active the virus is locally:
Go to CovidActNow.org to check out the state and county statistics. Is the virus well-contained? Or is the area experiencing increased infection, or even becoming a hot spot?
Here are some tips for evaluating any given social activity:
- Time. Reduce the amount of time spent with others
- Space. Seek situations where a lot of personal space can be maintained (6 feet apart, minimum)
- People. The fewer the number of people, the better
- Place. Outdoors (open air) is much better than indoors (not much ventilation)
Consider modifications. Reduce risks by moving an activity outdoors. Fewer people, and for a shorter duration, also helps. (Fifteen minutes is better than sixty.)
Of course, you want to stick with the “usual” precautions of wearing a mask in public, not touching the face, social distancing, and washing hands.
Think in terms of a risk budget. This is much like a sugar budget for a diet. If a high-risk activity is really important emotionally or spiritually, ask “What can be done to reduce the risk?” Or at worst, consider “blowing the budget” on that one activity. Then keep all other activities very low risk for an extended period in order to compensate. (A banana split once, and then only sugar in coffee for the next month.)
If your relative is frail or high risk for a serious case, the budget might be stricter. And certainly if COVID is active locally, attending even a small social gathering becomes less wise.
What about spending time with vaccinated people?
If you are not vaccinated, you can still visit with people from one vaccinated household at a time without masks and social distancing. If your loved one is fully vaccinated and you are not, it’s fine to visit. The caveat here is if someone in your unvaccinated household is high risk, for example the person you care for, it’s better for even vaccinated visitors to continue with precautions.
For a handy reference of do’s and don’ts, download the Choosing Safer Activities infographic from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
There is no easy yes/no answer.
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It’s a matter of balancing priorities. And as a family caregiver, you can only suggest. Unless they have dementia and are unable to make decisions for themselves, it’s ultimately your loved one’s decision how much risk an activity is worth.
"I'm vaccinated! What can I do?"
Hug those grandchildren! Perhaps the most difficult part of the pandemic, of course short of getting COVID, has been the isolation. Older adults have not fared well with it, including the lack of physical contact. Even if other family members are not vaccinated, if your loved one is fully vaccinated*, they can be indoors with members of an unvaccinated household and do not need to wear masks nor maintain a six-foot distance. This is great news for all those grandparents who have been sorely missing sweet cuddles with the grandkids.
* “Fully vaccinated” means two weeks past the final shot (shot No. 2 of Moderna or Pfizer, or shot No. 1 of Johnson & Johnson).
A few caveats
Of course, if anyone is experiencing symptoms of COVID, they should not come over.
And persons who have conditions or are taking medications that weaken the immune system, should ask their doctor if they still need to follow precautions even though they are vaccinated. It’s not 100% certain that COVID or a new variant will not infect even a vaccinated individual. And we aren’t sure yet how long the vaccines will grant immunity.
What you can do once fully vaccinated
Use the graphic above to help you and your fully vaccinated loved one determine precautions needed indoors with people from one to two other households.
For the fully vaccinated, no mask is needed outdoors unless you’re in a large-crowd activity (concert, sports event, large wedding). While exercising on your own outdoors, eating at an outdoor restaurant, or gathering as a small outdoor party, there is very little chance of getting or spreading COVID, so masks do not need to be worn nor social distancing observed. Picnic anyone? Someone light up the bar-b!
Indoor, public situations
Precautions are still recommended for everyone—the vaccinated and the unvaccinated alike—for indoor and moderate-to-large group gatherings.
Travel within the United States
Is your vaccinated loved one ready for a visit from faraway family? In terms of domestic travel, there is now no need to get tested before or after. Nor is there a need for self-quarantining. During travel on public transportation (buses, trains, airplanes), masks and social distancing will be required.
For a handy reference of do’s and don’ts, download the Choosing Safer Activities infographic from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
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