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Family Caregiving During Coronavirus

BY NOW, YOU'VE HEARD the stories and seen the video. Loved ones who cannot visit their mom, dad, husband or wife in a senior home due to the coronavirus pandemic have resorted to phone calls and hand signals outside windows. The isolation inside and out is deafening, but the helplessness from the caregiver's side hurts even more.

In many ways, all caregivers become long-distance caregivers at a time like this. Thirteen percent of Americans provide long-distance care already. So, what are some things we can be doing now – and once this passes, that we can do later? Let's take a look.

Keep the Home Safe: Wire Up

If you can't be in the home where your loved one is, at the very least, you can check in. First, let's work with what we might have and what we can send in.

Technically, my wife and I are in a vulnerable population: We're over 60. We also have a fully-alarmed house with cameras inside and out. We alone have access to them, but it would not be a big deal to give our three kids access so they can check in just in case they can't reach us on the phone. In senior living, so called Granny Cams have been debated; these are legal in some states, while elsewhere, family members hide them just to keep an eye on their relatives.

There are solutions such as BrioCare and LifePod that leverage smart speakers to help caregiver monitors loved one, while also engaging the care recipient in trivia, games or books. Using existing technologies that you may already have makes these solutions affordable. And when you add a video component to these app solutions, like Echo Show, you can engage face to face with a loved one too. This is especially important if they don't have a smartphone and FaceTime.

Consider adding whole-house monitoring systems to your house and that of a loved one. There are a variety of home sensor companies on the market. You can cobble together your own systems with Ring or SimpliSafe and with your local security provider.

Isolation Does Not Mean Idleness

Senior isolation is a huge issue, and when you have a situation where able-bodied older adults who want to go out but can't, well, that can be challenging. So how do you keep engaged? If you have a spouse, that's great. Heck, my wife and I are getting creative. Besides learning some new board games, we're knocking out our spring cleaning early. I had already started learning Italian and will ramp that up; likewise, my wife will continue online piano lessons.

An older person alone doesn't have to be lonely. If your loved one reads, ship him or her books. If they have trouble with their eyesight, install an audio book app on their phone. My senior-living colleagues, who can no longer go into a care home and provide a program, are getting creative. I stream live music concerts from my studio to shut-in elders. A friend of mine does a Science for Seniors program that she has now made virtual.

Take Care of the Essentials: Food and Finance

It's been incredible how restaurants and food delivery services have stepped up their game during this crisis. You can order groceries online and have them delivered. And I know those 33% of millennials who are caregivers can easily send Whole Foods items to mom or dad through their Amazon Prime account. You can also order supplies for your senior parents, make medical appointments as needed and more, all from the comfort of your home.

This extra time we all have is a good time to take stock of where we are in preparing for aging, getting necessary documents in order and uncluttering the house. It's also a good time to take care of your finances. There are shared platforms such as EverSafe and Onist that monitor bank and investment accounts, credit cards and credit data, and provide easy-to-use tools that help organize and analyze personal finances all in one place.

Take a Hand

Chances are your employer offers caregiver services of some type. The uptake on these is low, partly because people aren't aware of the benefits or don't want to self-identify. Now is not the time for that. Many of these companies offer access to aging life professionals and advocates who can help throughout the caregiving journey.

If you haven't done so in the past, once the coronavirus passes, help build a local support system for mom and dad. You can utilize e-tools such as Lotsa Helping Hands or ECare Diary to help coordinate and assign care.

Find your local Area Agency on Aging. They can assess the situation and offer solutions. Non-profit organizations are stepping up locally and can help. Faith-based organizations are a great support too. Of course, mom or dad's neighbors can be a great resource. It's a bonus that neighbors can keep an eye on each other. Even the postman can be your eyes and ears if they see mail and newspapers piling up.

The point of all this is that we can survive this pandemic and actually thrive afterwards if we install the right tools and safeguards to become better and healthier caregivers while helping those we love.

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