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Everywhere we turn, we see advice from doctors and public health experts about protecting yourself from the coronavirus and what to do if you start showing symptoms. But what if you are one of the more than 40 million Americans with a loved one who depends on you for care? For family caregivers, this pandemic poses even more questions, and AARP has some answers.
First, a quick review of the facts: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults and people with underlying health conditions, like heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, are about twice as likely to develop serious outcomes from the coronavirus. Many of these vulnerable individuals live in facilities such as nursing homes or assisted living where diseases can spread quickly. Others may live in their own homes and may be feeling isolated and worried about staying healthy and safe. And still more people who are currently healthy may be vulnerable to this particular disease and anxious about what happens if they do become sick.
So, if you are a family caregiver right now, we hope these five steps for caregivers facing COVID-19 are helpful. Or—if you’re a generally healthy person worried about what happens if you fall ill—you can flip this script and create your own care plan, just in case.
Five Steps for Caregivers Facing COVID-19
1. Build a Team
Put together a list of individuals in your family or friend network and of services in your (or your loved one’s) community that can help with caregiving tasks. Family, friends, or neighbors may be able to go shopping and run important errands, allowing your loved one to stay safe at home.
Additionally, services such as Meals on Wheels and newer can deliver meals, and there may be other local services to help with food or medication delivery.
2. Inventory Essential Items
Determine how much food, medication, and basic supplies the person you’re caring for has on hand. The CDC is recommending a 2-week supply of food, medications and other needed medical supplies, and other essentials. Determine what more your loved one needs and make a shopping list.
3. Get Medications in Order and Ask for Extra
Make sure you have a list of medications, medical contacts, and important information like allergies. A 30-day supply of essential medications, including over-the-counter medicine like cough suppressants and pain relievers, is helpful, and many doctors will write an extra prescription for this purpose. Follow doctors’ orders, but consider rescheduling upcoming routine medical appointments or switching to virtual visits.
4. Create a Plan to Stay Connected
Isolation will become a huge issue as we all begin to follow social distancing guidance from the CDC, so staying connected is particularly important. Arrange a way to keep in touch with your team using Facetime or Skype, smart speakers, email, or simply phone and text. Connect your loved one to the same platform. If your loved one is in a long-term care facility that is not allowing visitors, ask the staff if they can accommodate online “visits” using technology like FaceTime or Skype and how they plan to communicate with families. If the facility or your loved one can’t manage the technology, send cards, letters, magazines, puzzles, or other items to brighten your loved one’s day!
5. Maintain Personal Safety and Self-Care
Don’t forget about your own health and safety. Limit contact with visitors, wash your hands, avoid crowds, and follow guidelines from the CDC and local public health agencies.
For high-risk individuals, such as those with dementia and underlying health conditions, consider arranging for a caregiver to self-isolate with the care recipient to keep them both safe. Make sure to have a back-up plan with your team in case the primary caregiver becomes ill.
AARP is Fighting for Caregivers
While you focus on your and your family’s health, know that AARP is fighting for all older adults and family caregivers. AARP is providing information and resources to help older people and those caring for them protect themselves from the virus and prevent it from spreading to others. AARP has urged Congress to provide ample resources needed to combat the coronavirus disease and facilitate tele-health visits by those on Medicare.
Visit AARP’s Caregiving during Coronavirus resources at www.aarp.org/caregiving
Our Prepare to Care guide is free and available to all at www.aarp.org/preparetocare
Learn more about COVID-19 and how to protect yourself at http://www.aarp.org/coronavirus
We hope you and your loved ones remain healthy and find these tips useful. In times like these, having a plan may help you feel secure right now that you have done everything you can to prepare for the worst-case scenario.