Encore Age

COVID-19 and Elder Care

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By Amoti Nyabongo 

While most of us are glad to see the year 2020 in our rear-view mirror, we are still challenged to deal with the coronavirus and the protocols established in our daily lives. The saying is “Life goes on”, which it does. Caring for one’s self has taken on new meaning and this sets the tone for caring for our elders. 

A year ago, we knew that if you had a cold or the flu others around you could catch it, but it wasn’t taken that seriously. Enter COVID-19, and between the mask mandate, social distancing, and constant washing of hands or use of hand sanitizer, these are now the norms and we are entering a phase of isolation not just for our personal safety or health but that of family, friends, and strangers alike. 

Caring for our elders has us doubling down on cleanliness, distancing, and engaging in all-around protection. Our daily routines must be adjusted to include shopping, cooking, and cleaning for our seniors. For some of us, the challenges are minor. Our elders are still mobile and have their faculties and may need minor supervision while out and about. Then there are those who are home bound and need someone to check on them regularly. 

Here is what adult children who are arranging care for their elderly parents have to say: 

In talking with Miriam about her parents, the challenge was that they lived overseas in an isolated area, so arranging for caregivers to check on her parents was a challenge. An even bigger challenge was establishing the level and quality of communication between herself, her parents, and the caregiver organization. She noticed that some attendants were “spot on” when it came to meeting her parents’ needs, but this was not the norm and very inconsistent. 

With the advent of technology and the decline of face-to-face relationships, the bonds that we developed with family and friends are not as strong. This is a major challenge. 

Stanley Williams, an only child, credits his wife (who is a nurse) for stepping in to see that all was up to snuff regarding the care of his mother. He knew that his mother’s care was his responsibility but didn’t know the “ins and out”: of the healthcare system. Also, having the experience of caring for his mom helps him to care for his mother-in-law. 

If you don’t have someone in your immediate circle with healthcare knowledge, ask good questions and take good notes. If something appears wrong to you, ask about it. 

I had the chance to talk with Charles and Robert Daniels about their experiences. They too had someone in the healthcare profession to assist them in watching over their mother and securing her care. They say that because of this, the process of getting their mother adjusted to a supported living situation was gradual. Once their mother realized that there were people she could socialize with, the process became easier, but they still feel badly that, due to public safety protocols, they can’t visit her in person. 

In talking with the interviewees there were a few common threads readers should seriously consider. While seeing our elders enter their golden years and thinking about their care may be daunting, being prepared is the key. Have the conversations with them as to what their wishes are. Even if they themselves don’t want to have the conversation, press on. 

The next common thread is to ask them questions about the past. This will ensure that there is a stronger connection to the history of your family. Another benefit of having these kinds of conversations is they can strengthen the relationship between you and them. 

The cold reality is that we must protect our elders every step of the way and as much as possible. The age range of these parents was narrow in that they are all in the mid to high 80’s. Even if they don’t have pre-existing health conditions, their age puts them in the high-risk category for COVID-19 and other health conditions. 

Eventually there will be a treatment and maybe life may get back to (or move forward to) a new sense of normal. For now, mask up, social distance and sanitize…if not for our sake, their sake. 

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