Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Tips to Help Caregivers Manage during this Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic put much of our world on pause. Millions have lost their jobs or have seen a decrease in their work hours. Small businesses are going out of business or, at the very least, struggling to stay afloat. In the US alone, hundreds of thousands have been or are sick and tens of thousands of people have died. Families are caring for sick loved ones and grieving those they have lost.

Life is very, very different.

Life is different for caregivers, too. More than 40 million people in the US provide care for a loved one or friend and a great many of those are also employed. With the stay-at-home orders, loss of income, difficulty getting supplies, and the lock down of many hospitals and care facilities, the stress on caregivers and those they care for is at an all-time high.

Trish, Robert and Richard
What can caregivers do to cope with these situations and reduce their stress? These are a few suggestions to help you get through this extraordinary crisis.

Stay-at-home Orders. The Stay-at-Home orders are critical to keep people safe. Social distancing works. However, caregivers who live with their loved one know it is impossible to keep a distance while also caring for our loved one.

The best we can do is wash our hands frequently, wear gloves and a mask when possible, and keep commonly used surfaces disinfected. Many of us are spending even more time on caregiving duties because the outside caregiver can no longer come over or the day program has closed. This puts an even greater strain on us and adds to the stress of this already stressful time.
            Self-Care Tip. Caregivers cannot leave their home to get a break but we can find ways to take a break and reduce our stress. Spending 24/7 with our loved one means we are going to get on each other’s nerves (it’s okay; that’s normal). Find ways for both of you to have your own time and space. Can you go out in the backyard while your loved one is eating? Can your loved one do a puzzle book while you read in the other room? Even spending time together doing an activity like watching a movie can reduce your stress and keep that connection with your loved one.
Loss of Income. Losing your job or having your hours cut is devastating to someone on a strict budget. A dramatic loss in income creates worry and stress not only for you but your loved one as well.

While this is a terribly depressing time it is also time for action. Apply for unemployment as soon as possible. The CARES Act extends unemployment benefits so even if you didn’t qualify before you might qualify now. If possible, reach out to other family members for financial help. Contact your local food bank or Meals on Wheels for help with food. Reach out to creditors and landlords or mortgage companies to see if they can defer payments for a few months.

            Self-Care Tip. There is nothing more stressful than not knowing how you will pay your bills or feed yourself and those you care for. Taking action will help get you back on your feet but it is also critical for you to do something to reduce that overwhelming stress in the moment.

The best way to do that is to breathe. (Bear with me.) Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Repeat. You need to reduce your stress if you are going to be able to take that action described above. You need your full energy right now and that means taking care of yourself and allowing yourself a few moments to breathe and tell yourself you will get through this. You will. You will get through this.

Where are the supplies?! The lack of everyday supplies is maddening. Not to mention caregivers needed PPEs before anyone knew what a PPE was! (We need toilet paper, too, and it makes zero sense why there is a shortage of that right now.) How do we get the gloves we need or masks when all the stores are sold out? (And who the heck has all the toilet paper?) Luckily, caregivers are both persistent and creative. A few tips to find those necessary supplies:

·         Call your health care professional. A home health nurse, your doctor, a case worker or pharmacist might be able to at least steer you in the right direction if not order supplies for you. We have personally had luck with a home health nurse getting us gloves and alcohol prep pads. We also had luck with ordering gloves through one of our incontinence supply vendors.
·         Create online orders in the middle of the night. A friend gave me this tip and said product availability and available delivery times were better in the middle of the night.
·         Take advantage of senior hours. If possible, take advantage of the early hours some stores are setting aside for seniors or those with serious health conditions. I do not know if being a caregiver of someone will get you in early but it can’t hurt to try. Supplies seem to be more plentiful during these hours – even for paper products! 
·         Ask friends and neighbors. If there is a positive in this pandemic it is the connection people are creating with others. Neighbors are helping neighbors and friends and family are finding creative ways to help one another. Ask these people (even if you don’t know them!) where to find something you need.
·         Check non-traditional suppliers. Some of the essential businesses are now selling things like toilet paper and paper towels. Check stores like Home Depot or Lowes for disinfectant wipes and toilet paper. There are even restaurants selling not only their to-go food but also rolls of toilet paper!
·         Make your own mask/face covering. Homemade masks and face coverings are springing up. There are a few sites to help you make your own but this one has directions for both a no-sew version and one that requires sewing.

Self-Care Tip. Connect with others! Whether by phone, FaceTime, email, social media or texting, it is important to stay connected with others. Friends, family and strangers alike can not only help you find needed supplies but can also lend support and words of encouragement while you care for your loved one at home.

Lockdown Orders. Not being able to visit our loved one in the hospital or a care facility is not only tough to go through but frightening for caregivers. Just the possibility of having to send our loved ones to a hospital is even more stressful than usual because of the lockdown orders. There is no simple solution for this situation.

As caregivers, we are pros at advocating for our loved ones, keeping in constant communication with the hospital or the care facility caring for our loved one. We are used to being right by their side during a hospitalization and are a frequent visitor when they are in a care facility. Right now, that can be dangerous for us and for our loved one.

The best we can do at this time is get and give information over the phone. This is not ideal since hospitals and care facilities are busier than ever so enlist an advocate within the healthcare system, if possible. Do you have online access to the medical records of your loved one? You can check on blood work and other test results once they are posted online. Enlist your GP to see if they can get additional information from the hospital. Implore a contact at the care facility to keep you posted on your loved one.

If possible, keep in contact with your loved one through phone or text. However, this is not always reliable since our loved one may not be well enough to communicate with us or they may have dementia or otherwise unable to use a phone. Ask the healthcare professionals providing care for other ways you can best be kept apprised of your loved one’s condition.

            Self-Care Tip. This is very stressful situation to go through and you will need to care for yourself so that you do not end up with your own health issues. Make sure you are eating properly, drinking enough water and getting enough sleep. This may seem like obvious advice but every caregiver knows that during stressful times we forget to do all of these things. You have to stay well to prepare for your loved one’s return home so please take care of yourself.

Caregiving is more challenging than ever right now but we will get through this.

Stay safe and stay well. Take care.


Trish Hughes Kreis is co-author of the 365 Caregiving Tips: Practical Tips from Everyday Caregivers book series and works as a full-time Legal Administrator. She is also a freelance writer who advocates on behalf of her disabled youngest brother, Robert. Robert lives with intractable epilepsy, has an unwavering faith and a delightful way of declaring everything excellent. Robert has lived with Trish and her husband, Richard, for several years and they do their best to keep him in a never-ending supply of Rocky Road ice cream, happy, healthy, and, of course, excellent. 

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