As the daughter of parents who are deep into their eighties, these past four months have been particularly worrisome since Covid-19 reshaped all our lives into unknown territory. And, as of yesterday, my folks’ retirement facility has reported its first case of Covid, as cases in residential-care communities in North Carolina continue to climb. Further, at least 1,400 Covid-related deaths in our state have been of those age 65 and older.
Are you wondering how best to keep your older loved ones as safe and well as possible during the time of Covid? Consider these suggestions from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center:
- First, if you are a caretaker, make sure you are attending to your own wellness by following the “Covid-19 Rules”: wash your hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds at a time; practice social distancing; wear a mask; don’t touch your face; and keep your home, and your elderly loved one’s, as clean and sanitary as possible.
- Make sure to develop a backup plan for their care in case you become ill yourself. Have an emergency contact who is reliable and willing to help when you aren’t available.
- Help your loved ones stock up by gathering one-to-three-months’ worth of medications and at least two weeks’ worth of food, pet supplies, and other essential items. Find out what sorts of at-home delivery services might be available.
- Limit your in-person visits with your loved ones, during which everyone should wear masks while maintaining social distance, and NEVER visit if you are feeling unwell. Further, urge elderly family members to practice physical distancing in all their encounters — but not social isolation, which can have negative impacts both on older people’s immune systems and mental health. Encourage them to safely engage with neighbors, and folks they normally encounter in the course of their day. Ask them to postpone vacation plans and all nonessential travel.
- For those whose older loved ones are people of faith: The connection to their faith communities is of great importance for spiritual solace, support, and social connection. Help them access online services and notify their pastor or others engaged in pastoral care that they could use some extra attention and support.
- Help them stay connected in general by teaching them how to email, text, and video chat with others; apps that provide captions for adults with hearing challenges can be very helpful. And encourage family members and friends to lift their spirits by writing or phoning them.
- Keep your elderly loved ones active and involved by suggesting a project they can work on, such as organizing photo albums and sharing the memories and stories from those times. Or you can ask them to put together a collection of family recipes, or to make a list of their favorite movies and revisit them.
Perhaps most of all, let your elderly family members know that you cherish and value them. In this time when the message they might receive all too often is that they are unimportant or a hindrance or burden, remember — and remind them — that they are beloved human beings who have lived rich and full lives, through which they’ve made invaluable contributions.
And if you are a caretaker, remind yourself of your own deep value, apart from your caretaking role, and be sure to treat yourself accordingly.
On a special note: According to the American Psychological Association, these past months have perhaps affected African-American older adults in particularly profound ways. In addition to the challenges of Covid-19, and the health disparities that (per the CDC) result in African Americans being hospitalized at five times the rate of non-Hispanic whites (and dying from the illness at higher rates), African Americans have witnessed the horrific murders of unarmed black people across the United States. For older African Americans, who carry the weight of accumulated memories and stories of racist oppression and violence, this is particularly stressful — physically, emotionally, and spiritually — and makes them even more vulnerable to illness and poor health. They need our love, understanding, attention, and care more than ever.