COVID-19 is called a “novel” coronavirus because it is a relatively new germ. We don’t know a lot about it, so things change quickly. And it’s unfolding in different ways and at different rates across the country. That’s why it’s important to stay in touch concerning local policies and resources.
Here are materials we have created for you, or gathered from credible sources, to guide you in providing optimal physical and emotional support to your older loved one.
Quarterly newsletters for families:
Emergency Medical Document Kit
These documents are helpful for creating a packet that gives health care providers an immediate snapshot of your loved one’s unique health picture. If they do need to go to the hospital or work with other care providers, having this up-to-date information at the ready will make it more likely they can deliver the thorough care your loved one needs.
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- Current medication list
- List of doctors
- Medical history
- Locate the advance directive
Prevention and caring strategies
Those who have done some planning and made arrangements ahead of time fare far better should the worst happen, than those who have not. Not only is an ounce of prevention worth a very big pound of cure, but in the distress of bad news, should it happen, it’s nice to have all the supplies you need at the ready and a plan for what you will do. Clear thinking is not at its strongest when we’re dealing with something as scary as an active case of COVID-19.
Here are strategies to help you ahead of time:
- Current mask guidelines – The virus changes over time, which means we need to adapt. Stay up-to-date on the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding the most effective mask strategies.
- Cleaning and disinfecting – CDC infographic
- Connecting with doctors. Ask how to handle up-coming appointments, especially those for monitoring or treating chronic conditions. Ask about signs that a problem is developing and what you should do. Find out about telehealth options.
- Stocking up. Shortages may occur, and even online delivery services are having later than usual shipping dates. Help your loved one stock up on the following:
- Medications. The recommendation is to have a 90-day supply. Doctors and pharmacies are making it very easy to get 90 day’s worth. They understand the value of stocking up.
- Groceries. Try to have several weeks’ supply on hand.
- Medical supplies (hearing aid batteries, ostomy supplies, oxygen, etc.) Confirm any changed delivery patterns due to the pandemic.
- Getting prepared in case of illness
- Supplies list for the home and sick room
- Planning steps for patients and families – Prepare to Care in conjunction with the National Patient Advocate Foundation. Emphasis is on those who live in a single family home or apartment. Includes planning for medications, money and bills, pets, choosing a medical decision-maker, and what to bring to the hospital if things get serious.
- Checklist for Older Adults – CDC. Emphasis is on those who live in long-term care facilities (retirement communities, assisted living, continuing care retirement communities…). Includes getting ready in case you get COVID, if there is an outbreak in your community, advice for administrators and staff (useful for families to know what questions to ask), and advice for families of residents.
Caring for someone who is sick
What if you, the primary caregiver, gets sick?
Clearly you must take care of yourself (see the 10 steps for managing at home), but you also need to have a plan in place for others to step in for a few weeks and manage the things you currently do for your loved one. An Aging Life Care Professional can help with this. Give us a call at 214-789-6402.
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- Start by making a list of all the things you do and who might be able to take over in your stead:
- Fill pill boxes and order prescription refills
- Grocery shopping and other errands
- Monitor and order medical supplies
- Monitor and help to manage symptoms of chronic conditions (daily blood pressure and weight check, insulin testing for diabetics). Knowing when to call the doctor
- Pay bills and manage money
- Provide transportation to the doctor
- Work with the doctors and special therapists (physical therapy, speech therapy), home health or hospice nurses.
- Coordinate with outside services (home care, oxygen, meals on wheels, gardeners)
- Help with cooking and cleaning
- Assist with bathing, grooming, dressing, eating, toileting.
- Write instructions for things that are especially complicated. Concentrate only on those things that truly need to be done a particular way (e.g., a medical procedure, making a telehealth appointment). This is an extraordinary time, so allow leeway for things to be done differently from the way you might prefer. If there is not a long-lasting consequence to a deviation in method, that’s okay. The important part is that the task is accomplished rather than forgotten.
- Pick someone to coordinate all the helpers. It’s a job to orchestrate all the helpers and be sure everyone is coming through with their parts. Who would be best for this? Give them a call and ask if they can step in. Explain your list and answer questions. (You might also want to pick an alternate in case your first choice is also down with the coronavirus.)
Advance care planning
Perhaps your loved one has already prepared an advance directive and named a medical decision-maker. Great! Of course we all hope none of that will be necessary, but just in case, find the document and review it. There may be things that need updating: contact information for decision-makers, or perhaps a change in who is making decisions.
Have your loved one talk with the medical decision-maker about desires should things get serious. (We have some discussion tips and information below that is specifically related to COVID-19). These are sensitive topics. As Aging Life Care professionals, we can help facilitate this conversation.
And if the person you care for has not yet completed an advanced directive and named a decision-maker, now is an excellent time to get all of that in place. Let us help. Give us a call at 214-789-6402.
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Public health data and research
For those who want to stay on top of the latest data and breaking developments—or even contribute to scientific understanding of the pandemic—here are important credible resources:
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center – Includes data about tests conducted; confirmed cases; and total deaths. All are displayed on a world map by country, a U.S. map by county (updated daily), as well as tracking of trending data displayed by animated maps.
Center for Disease Control – Includes number of U.S. cases confirmed; mortality rates; hospitalization rates and outcomes; and hospital capacity data.
National Institutes of Health – Information on latest studies concerning vaccines, testing, etc.
Stanford University Family Caregiver Study – Share your experience of caring for a loved one during the pandemic. The person you care for does not need to have COVID. This anonymous questionnaire is designed simply to help understand the issues family caregivers face in these unusual times. Your answers may contribute to the development of helpful programs.
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Weighing risks for the unvaccinated
Life is a series of trade-offs. Calculated risks.
As of May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that fully vaccinated individuals can—with few exceptions—return to their prepandemic activities, mask free and without social distancing.
In terms of risks, however, recommended safety precautions for the unvaccinated remain the same—masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, and seeking well-ventilated venues.
For the unvaccinated, interacting in small groups with one other household that you know is fully vaccinated is now considered safe without precautions, unless one of the unvaccinated has a serious risk or lives with someone who has a serious risk.
Who is at risk of a serious bout with COVID?
According to the CDC, in addition to advanced age, high-risk conditions include the following:
- Heart, lung, and kidney conditions
- A compromised immune system due to an organ transplant or autoimmune disease
How to know if those around you are vaccinated
There is no verification system, so if you are in a public place and worried—for yourself or a loved one—you can’t assume that lack of a mask means a person is vaccinated. Weigh the risks as you have been these past months and make individual decisions based on the doctor’s recommendations and your own assessment of what feels safe, or safe enough.
Local rules prevail
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While the CDC has eased restrictions for the fully vaccinated, local rules still apply. Decisions by state and county health departments take precedence. So do the decisions of individual businesses. For the safety of everyone—their employees and customers—local businesses have the right to require everyone wear a mask in their setting, vaccinated or not.
"I'm vaccinated! What can I do?"
As of May 13, 2021, from the federal (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC) perspective, fully vaccinated individuals* can go mask free in all settings EXCEPT in indoor public settings where vulnerable or unvaccinated people might be present and not have a choice about leaving these situations:
- health care settings
- trains, planes, buses, other public transport
* “Fully vaccinated” means two weeks past the final shot (shot No. 2 of Moderna or Pfizer, or shot No. 1 of Johnson & Johnson).
For a handy reference of do’s and don’ts, download the Choosing Safer Activities infographic from the CDC.
Who is considered “vulnerable”?
The vaccine does not appear to be as effective for those who have a compromised immune system. This means people on medications that reduce immune response—cancer treatments, autoimmune diseases, transplant patients—or people with immune-compromised conditions (for example, HIV/AIDs). Talk to your loved one’s doctor about best strategies, given your relative’s unique situation.
If you feel sick
Even if you’ve been vaccinated, get tested, stay home, and revert to precautions for the unvaccinated, at least until a test confirms that you are COVID-free.
Not much change for the unvaccinated
Good news for the vaccinated, but nothing has really changed for the unvaccinated. There are lots of unanswered questions, in particular about young children who as yet are not eligible to receive a vaccine. Our focus here is on older adults and providing guidance to you as their family caregivers. You will need to check out local mandates about strategies to protect the children in your family.
State and local mandates still apply
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While the federal government has published its recommendations, you must follow state and local regulations. Plus, individual businesses have the right to maintain mask mandates to protect employees or customers who may not be vaccinated.