Tips for In-Home Caregivers Under Increased COVID-19 Safety Concerns
GUEST BLOG: by Simon Gidney, Founder of A Mind to Care
It is a sobering fact that, despite months of lockdown and social distancing, the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread around the world and, particularly, within the United States. The number of confirmed cases in America has risen dramatically since March, with only two states (Connecticut and Rhode Island) reporting decreasing numbers, and 36 states reporting increases as of June 28. And “at least 15,000 more Americans have died in recent months from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than otherwise would have, health officials believe.”¹
The virus has had a devastating impact across all strata of society, bringing emotional, economic, financial and mental trauma to people in all works of life, but the daily damage wrought by Covid-19 is at its most dangerous in the lives of the elderly, and particularly people living with Dementia.
Adult Day centers are able to give some form of routine or diversion for adults living with cognitive or physical impairments, but most of these have been closed since the virus started to take hold. Not only has this removed an important resource for people living with dementia, but it has also removed an important resource for caregivers looking after a family member at home.
There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about how we will all have to adjust to “the new normal” as a result of the pandemic but, while intellectually that is a concept with which few would disagree, when it comes to implementing the strategy into day-to-day life, it is very difficult to accomplish.
There are a lot of helpful suggestions and tips out there that may help caregivers adjust to this new normal, and I’ve distilled a few and set them out below; there is no “one size fits all” solution but one or some of them may strike a chord and be something that may help as we all try to adjust to the new landscape that we are living in:
1. Keep or establish a routine
Because of the social and movement restrictions created by Covid-19, many family caregivers are spending more time with their loved ones and providing more direct care. Creating a daily Care plan can provide needed structure and allow more time for satisfying activities.Many caregiving experts agree that there is a comfort and a rhythm in familiarity. Setting up and maintaining a daily routine can help the loved one in your care to stay calm and reduce agitation. As an example, try to have a set time each day for when your loved one gets up, eats meals, and goes to bed. The same principle applies to a schedule for activities – whether it is doing a puzzle, reading, listening to music, or some other activity; try to keep that activity period at the same time each day.
2. Try to keep active
One of the biggest challenges currently facing caregivers and the people they care for is created by the need to maintain social distancing. Depression and feelings of isolation are common challenges for people living with cognitive impairment. It is more important than ever to keep the mind active. Activities can bring a sense of meaning and purpose, as well as help the person being cared for to bond with the person caring for them. Studies show that when people engage in familiar and enjoyable activities, it improves their sense of well-being.The activity does not need to be complicated or require a lot of preparation; perhaps a jigsaw puzzle, a crossword, or a game, or even something as simple as helping to prepare a meal or set a table. Just participating in a routine household chore or task can create a sense of enjoyment and achievement. Remember though to go with an activity that the person being cared for would likely have participated in before their condition worsened – if they didn’t enjoy jigsaw puzzles before, they are unlikely to enjoy them now!
Here are a few more activity suggestions:
- Read aloud from a book or story
- Reminisce about days gone by; perhaps look at old photo albums and chat about the photographs and the memories they might provoke
- Crafts – perhaps some coloring exercises, or painting, making jewelry, quilting, or beading
- Having tea together, or watching a favorite TV show
- Physical activity – taking a walk, or some simple physical exercises
- Hobby time – if there is a hobby or interest that the person being cared for had or has an interest in?
3. Stay connected
One way for Caregivers to guard against the corrosive effect of isolation is to stay connected to the outside world as much as possible. One good thing about the times we are living in is that technology can really help. Zoom calls, FaceTime conversations, phone calls and text messages, all give an opportunity to “meet with,” chat with and actually see family and friends who they are not otherwise able to physically interact with during the lockdown.
4. Maintain a calm environment
Try as much as possible to remain calm despite the avalanche of bad news and statistics crashing out of the media. It might even be a good idea to take a break every now and then from watching every press conference, town hall, or interview with doctors. I’m not suggesting we bury our heads in the sand, but I do believe that every now and then we need to give ourselves an emotional break and concentrate on something light and even trivial, perhaps a funny film or book, just to let our stress levels drop a little and regain a little perspective.
Information overload can be stressful, and constant alarming information overload even more so! It goes without saying that talking too much about the pandemic with the person you are caring for is likely also to raise their anxiety levels. Individuals living with dementia can still pick up on signs or behavioral cues from people within the environment they are living in, so it is important to make sure you are creating a calm space that will allow them to feel safe and not increase their levels of agitation.
5. Try to take care of yourself
Deep down, every caregiver looking after someone knows how important this is, but they also know how difficult it is to actually do on a daily basis. It is not for nothing that all airlines instruct passengers that in the event of an emergency requiring oxygen masks, it is imperative that you affix your own mask before you look to help another family member or even a child to put their mask on. The reason for this instruction is that we can only help another person if we ourselves are in a position and condition to provide someone else help.
How does a stressed out, overworked, desperately tired caregiver achieve this important objective? Well, in addition to perhaps taking time out from constant updates about the march of the virus, try to make a little time for yourself each day. If you can engage the person you are caring for in an activity such as those mentioned above, perhaps that will create a brief time to relax, to meditate, to engage in some deep breathing exercises, or even phone a friend and just shoot the breeze for five minutes.
One of the greatest gifts given to the human race is the ability to actually comfort another person with a word of encouragement – we should cherish it when we receive it, and we should remember to give it to someone else when we have an opportunity to do so.
One way to help find encouragement is to join an online support group, as sharing with others and hearing about their issues and challenges will provide encouragement and reduce anxiety and isolation – as someone once said, a problem shared is a problem halved; that may sound overly simplistic but listening, and sharing an encouragement can be soothing palliatives to a troubled spirit.
If you have any other family members living with you, or available to spare you half an hour, enlist them for help from time to time; a brief respite might allow you to go outside for a short walk, or pop out for a little grocery shopping, appropriately masked up of course. Even a 15-minute break can help you to reboot, when circumstances are threatening to overwhelm you.
There will be an end to these difficult times and the power of the human spirit it indomitable – we just need to hang on and look after ourselves as much as we can to retain a sense of hope and perspective.
If you could use help providing quality, compassionate in-home care for your loved one in Palos Verdes, Torrance, Redondo Beach or the surrounding area, A Peaceful Way’s quality caregivers are available to assist. Please call us at (310) 377-3776 so we can help.
¹Coronavirus Pandemic Led to Surge in Alzheimer’s Deaths, Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2020
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: SIMON M. GIDNEY
Simon M. Gidney is the Founder of A Mind to Care LLC, the manufacturer and distributor of a game therapy system for those with cognitive challenges. The system has been used successfully in assisted living residences, skilled nursing communities, and senior in-home environments to provide entertainment and stimulation for the users. The firm’s mission is to help as many people as possible by improving quality of life through entertainment and activities. Simon lives in Redondo Beach, happily married to Stephanie for 34 years.
Learn more about A Mind to Care’s modular non-electronic game therapy system here: https://amindtocare.com