Colleen Hollestelle, MA, CMC, LNHA || Owner and Founder, AgingEmpowered || Gerontologist and Care Navigator
One of my favorite jams from the 90s is “Don’t Stay Home” by 311. If this is piquing your curiosity or causing you to wax nostalgic, you can check it out here: watch. While the message fits many phases of life, suffice it to say Anthony S. Fauci, MD, is not endorsing it as the COVID-19 2020 anthem. We’re all encouraged…and in some cases executive-ordered to STAY HOME. Introverts rejoice while the rest of us figure out how to make it work because our lives depend on it. Schools are out, non-essential businesses have closed, and families are lodging together doing all things from home. What about the aging who were already home and are faced with the prospect that they may become ill? Furthermore, what if they are the caregiver for another aging family member? With the unknown trajectory and timeline of this pandemic, the majority of my client calls are: I’m the caregiver. What is my Caregiving Plan B? This guide focuses on practical tips for caregivers to have as much control over this situation by minimizing risk, maintaining supplies, and having a plan for care if the caregiver is ill.
In the interest of preserving health, minimizing risk is the most significant factor in creating Caregiving Plan B. As you are likely aware, persons with suppressed immunity, including older adults and individuals with chronic disease, are encouraged to take extra precautions to prevent exposure and potential infection of COVID-19. Many cities and states have adopted “Stay At Home” orders with the exception of acquiring necessities such as groceries and medication. A few considerations include:
- Grocery delivery through a local agency or grocery delivery service
- Medication delivery from a pharmacy, agency, or courier service
- Phone or telehealth medical visits
- Wearing a mask while in public
I’m a prepared, not panicked person by practice. This advice comes from a place of reducing exposure, not fear-mongering.
Maintain Supplies you may need if you are caring for someone or are ill yourself. Suppose you are sick, but not sick enough to be hospitalized. What would you need to minimize the spread of the illness without your home and treat an infected person? A few items I have encouraged clients to have on hand include:
- Cleaning products to disinfect your environment from COVID-19. I’m not recommending hoarding; these are items you should have on hand to kill the virus if it is in your home. The CDC offers home disinfecting guidelines here:
- Similar to cleaning and disinfecting products, be sure to have helpful paper and barrier products on hand. Paper towels, gloves, masks, kleenex, and disposable dishes are all helpful when caring for a loved one–or yourself.
- Medications: This is a good time to fill your prescriptions earlier rather than the day before you run out. Consider a phone consultation with your physician (s) about what over-the-counter treatments you can take for a cold or flu virus. Make sure you have a working thermometer. Harvard recently published an article on treatments with suggestions:
- Food: Keep foods on hand that are simple to make and comforting in a time of cold or flu. Consider canned fruits, soups, and beverages that provide comfort in times of illness.
Caregiving Plan B Technically, this is all part of Plan B, but making plans for who will care for your loved one if you cannot due to illness is one of the most important pieces of the planning process. A few things to consider:
- If the person for whom you provide care is sick, can you care for them? Assuming you can, how do you minimize your exposure? Consider the following:
- Do you have the means to quarantine the person to their own room and bathroom? While it is ideal, if the person to whom you provide care has memory loss, that may not be possible.
- If you can quarantine your loved one, use as much protection for yourself including handwashing, disinfecting cleaners, gloves, a mask, and disposable plates, silverware, etc.
- If you become ill, do you have the means to quarantine yourself in your home? Is there a friend or family member who can relieve you of caregiving duties? Is there a friend or family member who can help take care of you? Consider a worst-case scenario: if you are hospitalized, is there someone to care for your loved one?
- Caregiver Guide: Consider making a notebook about basic health information and care preferences for your loved one in the event you are suddenly unable to provide care. Vital health information including medications and primary care physician information are critical. Document daily routines and preferences for food, dress, activity–anything you can think of that the Plan B Caregiver would need to know to pinch hit for you while you recover.
- If you are hospitalized, do you have a plan for a backup caregiver? This is on the minds of many in-home caregivers secondary to the Covid-19 Pandemic. It is a good plan to have in place during a healthy season of life as well. Just as families plan for who will provide care for their children if they are unable, a backup plan for an aging family member is also important.
- Advance Directives: Do you have them? Have they been reviewed? Have they been provided to and effectively communicated with your healthcare team and family? The time is always right to make an Advance Directive and review them.
- What about moving your loved one into Senior Living while you recover? This is a difficult situation. Beginning in mid-March, all nursing homes and assisted living centers have been under the advice of the federal government to prohibit all visitors except for residents at the end of life. This guidance was offered in the interest of limiting the transmission of COVID-19 in senior living, which is vulnerable to a quick and pervasive spread of the illness. Thus, if your loved one has been exposed to COVID-19, they will likely have to be quarantined for an extended period of time to be admitted to senior living. Additionally, they will not be allowed visitors, and potentially still be exposed to infected peers. As far as timing is concerned, this is not good timing for admission to senior living.
These are difficult times and difficult situations for all of us globally, including caregivers and aging families. While these suggestions are offered for aging families, they’re truly ageless. Preparing to care for ill family members in the home during a pandemic knows no age. Hopefully, this guide helps stimulate conversations and planning within your family.
As always, if you would like a personal consultation, AgingEmpowered is here to help—from behind Zoom, a phone, or a mask. Be healthy and stay well, friends!