While we’re social distancing, caregiving hasn’t stopped. Before the pandemic began to take hold of regular life, many of us played vital roles in supporting sick or elderly family members living across town or across the country. Now that dropping by to visit with an elderly relative or driving an ailing family member to a doctor appointment may not be possible, we need to find ways to provide support and care from afar. Here are five things you can do to provide care while practicing safe social distancing:
- Check in regularly
In the best of times, loneliness and isolation can be significant challenges for many seniors and others living alone. Social distancing is making people of all ages feel lonely and isolated, but for those with limited physical mobility, increased vulnerability to infections, cognitive decline, and chronic health conditions, the risk of medical problems and depression is much higher.
You can support your loved ones from afar by scheduling daily or weekly phone call or video chat. See if you can have some virtual fun. Consider doing an activity together while on a video call like cooking, doing a crossword puzzle, or streaming an online exercise class.
- Create a team
You may not be able to do everything on your own. Now is a good time to consider bringing in outside help. The AARP has a toll-free family care giving resource line for people taking care of a loved one, 1-877-333-5885. They can suggest resources on a wide variety of topics like medical and financial help, long-term care, and care giving from a distance.
You may want to consider finding a geriatric care manager to help with an elderly parent or look into whether the services of a patient advocate might help. To find a health advocate in Washington state, start by checking the Health Advocates Directory.
- Use virtual visits
Many major insurers, health care organizations, and doctor’s offices now offer patients the option of meeting with a health care provider virtually. For patients with compromised immune systems, staying out of medical facilities as much as possible is especially important. It will help if you already know your options and how to connect virtually before your family member needs an appointment.
One thing you can do from afar is to gather together all of the information from your family member’s medical providers for a virtual visit so you know how it will work. You may need to register, set up an account, or download an app first.
- Stay in the loop
Scheduling regular check-ins with everyone involved in your family member’s care can help keep you in the loop when you can’t be there in-person. Gather together your loved one's local caregivers and health care providers via a conference call, social tools like FaceTime or Whatsapp, or use a virtual meeting program like Skype and Zoom.
Try an online scheduling tools such as Lotsa Helping Hands to make it easier for you and your team to stay current on who's doing what and when.
- Don’t forget about you
It’s easy to be swept up in the ever-changing to-do list of care giving and things are especially nerve-wracking right now. But your mental and physical health are vital, too. Be sure to schedule some time for yourself. Take a walk without your cell phone. Spend some time on the phone or video chat with a friend. Whatever gives you a boost is the right choice for you. We’re all in this together and the people who rely on you most need you healthy and well, too.
Sources: National Institutes of Health, National Patient Advocate Foundation, AARP, Washington State Health Advocacy Association