Hawai‘i’s 157,000 family caregivers need to take care of themselves and create a plan for caring for a loved one if they get sick during this time of pandemic.
Caregiving is already stressful, and loved ones who need care are among those at highest risk from the COVID-19 virus, a fact that’s echoed by AARP Hawai‘i State Director Keali‘i Lopez.
“Both caregivers and people who need care may be under increased stress and feeling isolated and anxious about how they can stay healthy and safe,” Lopez said. “AARP’s experts have put together guidance for family caregivers, and the most important thing caregivers should do is take care of themselves first because you can’t give good care to others unless you are healthy.”
Key steps for caregiving during the outbreak include:
• Pull together a team — Put together a list of individuals in your family or friend network and services in your community that can help you perform some key caregiving tasks. While there may be one primary family caregiver, identify other family members, friends and/or neighbors who can check in or help with shopping and important errands. It’s best if the person you’re caring for doesn’t leave their home and stays out of public places. Call 2-1-1 to find 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. 2-1-1 can also direct you to caregiver-support groups, some of them are meeting online. You can also find information and support at aarp.org/caregiving;
• Inventory essential items — Determine how much food, medication and basic supplies the person you’re caring for has on hand. We recommend, if possible, having a two-week supply of the following items: food, water, house-cleaning supplies, medical materials/equipment, etc.;
• Get medications in order and ask for extra — As a starting point, 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. We recommend 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;
Caregivers should also practice social distancing by limiting contact with visitors, staying in as much as you can and, of course, washing hands thoroughly and avoiding touching your face.
AARP launched a new online platform to help connect caregivers, kupuna and volunteer groups willing to help at aarpcommunityconnections.org. Users are able to request a call from an AARP volunteer or a trained counselor; easily create an account with Savo (joinsavo.com) to make connecting with their families easier; and Join “The Mighty,” a safe, supportive online community for people facing health challenges and their caregivers.
If you self-isolate or if your loved one is in a nursing or care home and cannot get visitors, take steps to make sure you and loved ones receiving care are still socially connected. Humans need contact with others, and loneliness and social isolation are also detrimental to your health.
Here are some tips to staying connected:
• Set up communication — use a variety of technology like Facetime or Skype, smart speakers, or simply phone and text with your team. Start using this now so you’re all in frequent communication;
• If possible, check with the facility your loved one is in to see if they have made accommodations for online visits using technology like Facetime or Skype, and how they plan to communicate with families;
• If they can’t support visits via technology like Alexa, Google Home or Facetime visits, send in cards, letters, magazines, puzzles or other items you know your loved one would be happy to get. Talk with your facility management about the safest way to deliver items.
“Our understanding is that the outbreak has created new family caregivers as people work at home or who are now not working and have a family member who needs care living with them. In addition, many senior daycare centers have shut down, forcing families to care for loved ones on their own,” Lopez said.
“Help and support is available at the aarp.org/caregiving website. You can also find local caregiving resources at www.aarp.org/crf or by calling 211 – the United Way’s support line or your county agency on aging.”
Craig Gima is the communications director for AARP Hawai‘i and can be reached at 808-545-6006 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.