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How to support seniors as a caregiver during the  COVID-19 pandemic

How to support seniors as a caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic

Feature Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Give yourself a health checkup

As a caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic, you have certain responsibilities, the first of which is taking good care of yourself. Before you attend to your patient or loved one, get a reading on your own health. Take your temperature to make sure it falls in the range of normal. If you are showing any signs of respiratory illness, such as shortness of breath, coughing, or sore throat, you will need to self-quarantine and get tested for COVID-19. Please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of possible symptoms when making your assessment.

Select an alternate caretaker you trust

In the event you are showing symptoms and need to self-quarantine, who will take care of your patient or loved one? Line up an alternate caretaker that you truly trust to take over, should the worst occur. Be sure they understand the responsibilities they are undertaking. Provide them with a folder of information about your patient or loved one with all instructions regarding their care and routine, as well as information about their current health and mental and emotional state. They should have access to all pertinent medical data as well.

Hold a meet and greet with your alternate so that your loved one will feel more familiar and comfortable with them. Make sure a rapport develops so that the change will not cause unnecessary stress for your patient or loved one. Having a stranger suddenly show up will likely upset them and it could possibly have a negative impact on their health.

Make sure your patient or loved one has access to hygienic supplies

High demand and shortages have made getting simple supplies like hand soap, disinfecting wipes, alcohol, gloves, and face masks quite a challenge. It often takes frequent Internet searches and checking in with your local stores to procure these items that are no longer readily available. Those affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia frequently do not understand what they need, let alone how to purchase these items.

Take stock of all hygienic items in the household and think ahead for the next few weeks. Will your patient or loved one need more hand soap? Toilet paper? Make sure you have these items ordered well in advance because there are often delays in production and shipment. Place hand sanitizer, tissues, and other necessities in strategic places where they are more likely to be used.

Be sure to practice CDC guidelines, including wearing a face covering and social distancing when possible.

Wearing a mask or face covering will help protect your patient or loved one in the event you have contracted COVID-19 and are not showing symptoms. While social distancing is not always possible while caretaking, putting it into practice as much as possible will likely help lessen any chance of infection.

Place signs at the kitchen and bathroom sinks as handwashing reminders

For those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, it can be very easy to forget simple tasks. Posting cheerful, concise reminders at their kitchen and bathroom sinks will help your patient or loved one to remember to wash their hands. Provide clear instructions with pictures to help them understand exactly what they are supposed to do.

Suggest the use of handwashing songs

It’s hard for any of us to know exactly how long 20 seconds is. Handwashing songs can help your patient or loved one have a timed guideline to make sure they are washing their hands long enough. And it can make it more fun for them as well. Have them sing any of the following familiar songs:

A woman washing her hands at the sink
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

• “Happy Birthday” (twice)
• “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” (twice)
• “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music
• “The ABC Song”
• Chorus from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz

Give the home a thorough cleaning

There has been conflicting evidence on the possibility of transmission from surface contact. As a caretaker, adopting a “better safe than sorry” approach is prudent. Besides taking extra precautions against COVID-19, keeping surfaces disinfected will help lessen the risk of food poisoning, bacterial infections, and other illnesses. Make sure doorknobs, faucet handles, tables, counters, and floors get a good, deep cleaning with soap and water, followed by disinfectant, as often as possible. Give extra attention to metal or plastic surfaces, where the virus can stay alive for up to 72 hours or more. Here are some other important cleaning tips:

  • Refresh linens frequently
  • Change out hand towels and dish towels daily and wash bedding
  • Disinfect the floor, paying special attention to entryways.

Prepare for an emergency in advance

We always hope the worst doesn’t occur. But sometimes, bad things happen. Being prepared will be your best defense if you have to make a quick trip to the emergency room. Pack a bag that you can grab on the way out the door. In this bag, you’ll want to pack the following:

  • All medical documentation, such as advance directives, health insurance information, current medications, and medical providers’ contact information.
  • A change of clothing for both you and your patient or loved one. Be sure to include items like adult diapers, if necessary.
  • Non-perishable snacks and bottled water.
  • A note with reminders of easy-to-forget items you might need during your stay, such as a cellphone charger.
  • Instructions for medical personnel about your patient or loved one that might help them communicate with them more effectively.
  • Anything that you might not be able to get easily once you are in the hospital.

Remember that your responsibilities are 24/7

As a caretaker for an elderly loved one or patient, it’s imperative that you take proper precautions — both on and off the clock. The life of your patient or loved one depends on it. There are many cases of COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, often with high death tolls. It only takes one infection in such a facility to quickly become an outbreak.

Know that you must also take the same level of care while off-duty. This includes following all CDC-recommended guidance for hygiene and social distancing —every day without fail.

This may impact your personal life in ways you had not envisioned. Let’s say your friends want to have lunch with you at the local watering hole. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? But a responsible caretaker will likely decline that very enticing invitation. Why?

In a public setting, it’s very challenging to control the limit of your exposure. Many choose to not wear face coverings and maintaining proper social distancing is often difficult, at best. You cannot often control someone walking into your personal space in a crowd. And though your server will most likely wear a mask, your dining partners will not be able to wear a mask while eating. There really is no way to be certain of the health status of every member of your party, and it only takes one close interaction to pass along the virus. And let’s face it — we know that people are often known to hide or stretch the truth, or forget to mention a situation where they may have been exposed.

It is your responsibility to do everything you can to prevent infection so that you do not pass it on to your loved one or patient. After all, many lives are at stake.

Ask for Help

Keep in mind, Advantage Home Care can help with any of your caretaking and housekeeping duties. We provide care for as little as 3 hours per day twice a week or up to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Give us a call at 207-699-2570 or email us at [email protected]. We’re here for you!

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