It is a terrifying time to be caring for an aging parent or other family member who needs assistance with physical or cognitive limitations. You are unable to visit your loved ones in care facilities. It is a struggle to find aides to care for them at home. You worry about them contracting the potentially deadly coronavirus. You worry about you contracting the disease. On top of all that, you may have just lost your job.
But there are steps you can take to relieve the burden on both you and your loved ones. Here are some ideas.
Plan ahead…for them, and for you.
If you have been putting off preparing advance directives—for them and for you—please don’t delay any longer. Create a living will and, just as important, designate someone you trust to act as a medical power of attorney (sometimes called a health care proxy). Those receiving care can even create a do-not-hospitalize order, if they prefer to die quietly at home (wherever that may be) and avoid the tumult of a hospital. It goes without saying that this is more important now than ever.
Once you create these documents, give copies to the appropriate primary care doctor and your local hospital, and make sure they include them in your medical records. For those living in a care facility, get management these documents, along with a Medical Order for Life- Sustaining Care (MOLST).
Planning ahead Pt II
In the era of COVID-19, you need to make another plan: Who will care for your loved ones if you get sick? If you become COVID-19 positive, you won’t be able to provide hands-on care for your parents. “Family caregivers need to make a back-up plan,” says AARP’s Lynn Feinberg. Don’t wait. Once you get COVID-19, you’ll be in no shape to organize back-ups. Work this out with family and friends now.
One way to do this is to take time to think about those who can support you and your loved ones, if CIVID-19 hits your family. About a year ago, I wrote about a simple tool called Atlas CareMaps that can help you visualize who your supports are. This is a valuable exercise in the best of times, but critical now.
Join a support group. Family caregiving is really hard, even in the best of times. Now, you may be caring for a parent who is in a nursing home and assisted living facility but who you have been unable to visit for weeks and you may not able to visit for months more. You feel anxious and guilty.
Don’t try to manage this by yourself. Find others in the same situation and talk about it. Share ideas and, perhaps, a virtual shoulder to cry on. You may be able to find local groups through faith communities, Area Agencies on Aging, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, local non-profits that support older adults, or disease-related groups. National groups such as daughterhood.org or AARP may be able to help as well.
Caring for a loved one at home.
If you are using home care workers, you need to protect them, your parents, and yourself from infection. If you hire through an agency, make sure it provides direct care workers with personal protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves, and that it trains them how to use it. If you hire directly, you may have to provide that equipment yourself. But it is critical that aides have access to personal protection and use it properly.
If your aides don’t feel well, encourage them to stay home. Pay them if they have no sick leave (few do). Remember, shift workers may be seeing other clients or working part-time in a nursing home. They are at high-risk of contracting coronavirus themselves and passing it on to others. Help keep them and yourself safe.
If you are providing all the care yourself, you face different challenges. It is harder to ask a friend or neighbor to relieve you while you go shopping or take a break. But you can ask people to shop for you (even if it means leaving groceries outside your door). Friends or relatives also can provide you some virtual relief with Zoom, FaceTime, or even the telephone.
Caring for a loved one living in a nursing home or assisted living facility. You can’t visit but you can set up a phone call or video chat. Involve as many family members as possible, including grandchildren. The grandkids also can send cards and notes, perhaps with photos.
But you also need to maintain a relationship with the staff. Check in regularly. Ask management about infection control. And ask if there is anything you can do to help—perhaps by donating equipment such as masks.
One last bit of advice for caregivers. Take a walk. Caregiving can become all-consuming, especially in the age of COVID-19. You need a break, and you need to do everything you can to maintain your own health. A walk is the perfect solution. Everything else may seem like it is falling apart but spring is beautiful. Try to enjoy it.