Guest Editorial: Caregiving in the era of COVID-19
Guest Editorial

Guest Editorial: Caregiving in the era of COVID-19

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As cases of the COVID-19 continue to spread across Pennsylvania and around the world, health officials have made it clear that older adults and those with chronic health conditions are particularly susceptible to the effects of this dangerous respiratory illness.

Many of our most vulnerable older adults live in communities where diseases can spread quickly, such as nursing homes or assisted living. That’s why facilities are temporarily banning visitors in hopes of preventing the transmission of COVID-19 and limiting residents’ exposure to anyone who may be infected with the virus.

At the same time, many seniors are at home and could be feeling isolated and anxious about how they can remain healthy and safe.

Currently there are some 1.6 million unpaid family caregivers across Pennsylvania who are providing short-term or long-term assistance to loved ones in facilities and at home, a number that is only expected to increase with the spread of the virus.

That’s why it’s so important that family caregivers have a plan in place in case they get sick and can’t care for those who are relying on them. At AARP, we believe a caregiving plan should include:

Pull Together a Team. Develop a list of family and friends who can perform caregiving tasks. In addition, identify local caregiving services. And find out if services such as Meals on Wheels can help deliver meals, or if there are other local services to help with food or medication delivery.

Inventory Essential Items. Determine how much food, medication, and basic supplies the person you’re caring for has on hand. We recommend having a two-week supply of food, water, household cleaning supplies and medical materials/equipment.

Get Medications in Order, Ask for Extra. Make sure you have a list of medications, medical contacts, and important information like allergies. If there are upcoming routine medical appointments, reschedule those or, if possible, switch to a virtual visit. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends having an extra 30-day supply of essential medications on hand. Don’t forget over-the-counter medications like cough suppressants and fever reducing drugs like acetaminophen.

Stay Connected. Isolation is a huge issue as we all follow the social distancing guidance from the CDC. Set up communication using any or all available technology—or simply phone and text with your and loved ones. To help fight the isolation, encourage people to send cards, letters, magazines, puzzles or other items a loved one would be happy to receive.

Maintain Personal Safety and Self-Care. To be safe and stay healthy, limit contact with visitors, practice social distancing, stay inside as much as you can and continue to wash your hands. While most of us are very focused on the person we are caring for, it is essential to care for yourself.

Of course, sometimes it’s easier to just ask for help. That’s why AARP has a dedicated, toll-free family caregiving line for people taking care of a loved one. Agents are available to take calls Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET at 1-877-333-5885. You can also find answers online at the AARP Caregiver Resource Center located at www.aarp.org/caregiving. The good news is you don’t have to be an AARP member to call the support line or visit our online communities. We’re here to help.

These days, caregiving is a common family dynamic. It will only expand with the spread of COVID-19. At AARP, we’re committed to helping families during these extraordinary times. Now more than ever, family caregivers need all the help they can get.

Bill Johnston-Walsh is the State Director of AARP Pennsylvania.

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