In previous newsletters, I’ve related personal experiences with my older adult parents as a means of sharing my views on how best to manage a variety of healthcare obstacles and situations. The COVID-19 Pandemic is no exception.
One of the many factors resulting in my decision to cancel a vacation was my need to be within reach (i.e., in the United States) to care for my 84- and 85-year-old parents in the event one or both became ill. I also wanted to be present to meet the needs of clients and their families — supporting, educating and (hopefully!) influencing their behaviors.
Here are some of the things I have been sharing…
We suggested avoiding trips to healthcare organizations whenever possible. We made decisions together to postpone elective appointments and diagnostic testing that could wait.
For those who had urgent problems, we made phone calls to the physician practice in question, to inquire about precautions they were taking. We were so pleased to hear that many of these had already instituted thoughtful and careful steps for protecting patients.
We recommended avoiding pharmacies but had to be specific about where clients were in the cycle of receiving refills on their medications. Calls to pharmacies and insurance companies were needed to ensure extended supplies of medications where possible.
In some circumstances, clients had someone in their lives who could pick up their medication for them. In other cases, pharmacies were delivering. Those that had to go out, first checked with the pharmacy about picking up via drive through and/or going early, when there were fewer customers.
Limiting hand shaking, hugging and kissing, especially with children. We discussed the use of a wave, bowing our heads, or elbow bumps as a means of showing affection.
Appropriate handwashing, how and when
This topic, although being espoused by everyone, had to be elaborated on as most people have never received formal training about how to do this appropriately. Many found the singing of the “Happy Birthday” song twice as an easy guide they could employ.
Everyone laughed when I relayed my sexist attitude about men on this topic. I joked that it was from an observational study of watching the most important men in my life — my husband, father, and grandson — that I have concluded that men don’t wash their hands adequately. A little humor always helps!
Not touching one’s face
This topic was a hard one as everyone reacted with how difficult it is to do. Raising our consciousness was a place to start. My parents have begun reminding each other when they observe this behavior, with the hope they can train themselves to resist the urge.
This was a tough conversation with my parents, particularly regarding church attendance. They thought it would be okay because they attend with friends and know everyone who sits near them. I struggled with their desire to attend and to respect their choices.
At the same time, I know that how well you are acquainted with someone has little to do with their potential for infection. In the end, being able to point out that Catholic Bishops all over the country were providing dispensation from attending mass came in handy!
Many articles and television segments have been devoted to the potential for loneliness as a result of social distancing. I always encourage my mom to be more social, and now I am telling her to do the opposite!
Yes, there are other ways to stay connected. But we must all be conscious of the limitations many of the newer technologies may pose for the less tech-savvy older adults among us. I am fortunate that my parents have each other, and we created a plan to speak twice each day by phone.
We must plan to manage the care of our loved ones should they require hospitalization, particularly if they are not local to you. I refer you to previous newsletters — here and here — that describe how to prepare, by having a HIPAA compliant medical release form on hand, along with a Personal Healthcare File.
Unfortunately, we cannot rely on medical record systems to interact with each other, so we must plan to be the conduit of information about our loved ones, representing their baseline level of health and functional abilities. I highly suggest that you take the time to organize your information, just in case.
So much has changed in just the past 24 hours since I sat down to write this newsletter. Please care for yourself, so that you are able to care for others. And, as you reach out to care for the older adults in your life, remember to listen to what they are thinking first and plan from there, constantly adjusting to the crisis at hand.