Being a caregiver is challenging; and taking care of a loved one during COVID-19 can be particularly stressful with social distancing and the uncertainty around when our lives can go back to normal. In addition to keeping your loved ones safe, It’s important to take care of yourself – both physically and mentally- so you can be there for those that need it the most. Below are several tips and resources to help with your caregiver responsibilities during this difficult time.
- Keep You and Your Loved Ones Safe – Older adults and people with chronic conditions such as lung or heart disease are at higher risk for having more serious complications from COVID-19. The CDC recommends that anyone over 60 should remain at home as much as possible, wash their hands frequently, and take everyday precautions to stay at least 6 feet away from others. If you are a caregiver for an older adult living alone, experts advise the following tips to preserve the safety and health:
- Limit the amount of visits and visitors coming in and out of the home to those that are absolutely necessary.
- Consider wearing gloves and other personal protective equipment when preparing meals, medications, and assisting with activities of daily living. Try to touch as few surfaces as possible.
- If you use a professional homecare agency, check to see if they have a policy for screening staff for COVID-19 symptoms. If you hire someone directly, call them before the visit and ask them if they have any symptoms. If they are not feeling well, encourage them to stay home. If they do make the visit, ensure that they are equipped with personal protective equipment such as a mask, gown, gloves, especially if they are making visits across multiple patients.
- Enlist Help for Essential Items – Enlist the help of friends and family to help pick up groceries, medications, and other essential items for your loved ones who are at higher risk for leaving the home due to COVID-19. Use Lotsa Helping Hand’s new Lists function to help organize grocery lists, home good needs, chores, or other needs for neighbors, family, and friends to assist with. Remember, advise your family or friends to leave items at the door, or if they need to come in, to maintain social distancing guidelines and limit contact with surfaces. If you cannot receive the help of family or friends, Instacart and Amazon are two great options for scheduled grocery delivery. Also check with your local pharmacy to see if they can deliver prescriptions to your loved one’s door. Both Walgreens and CVS are waiving delivery fees for customers during the COVID-19 crisis.
- Set-Up Virtual Visits – Physical isolation and distancing does not have to be mentally or emotionally isolating. Create ways for your loved ones to have virtual interaction and ‘visitation’. You can set up video calls via Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, or other online video services. Play a game, read a book out loud, share some memories, or discuss interesting topics. Sharing time, even when not being physically together, is a great way to keep up spirits and lessen the sense of isolation.
- Know your Health Plan Benefits – If you or a loved one do get sick, many health plans are waiving copay and deductibles for treatment related to COVID-19, such as Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield Plans, and Humana. Some are taking further steps such as launching COVID-19 assessment tools and covering COVID-19 testing with no out-of-pocket costs. Contact your health plan to understand what additional benefits you are entitled in response to COVID-19. A list of how major health plans are responding to COVID-19 can be found here.If you are a Medicare recipient, you can receive COVID-19 testing without any additional deductible or copay. Furthermore, Medicare Part D plans are now required to provide up to a 90-day supply of medications to enrollees who request it, which can reduce the need to make additional trips to the pharmacy. An FAQ on Medicare costs and coverage related to COVID-19 testing and treatment can be found on the Kaiser Family Foundation website.
- Opt for Telemedicine Visits – Healthcare facilities are the environment where people are most likely to get sick, and should be avoided except in the event of an emergency. If an appointment is necessary, consider asking your doctor if he/she can perform the consultation using telephone or video-based systems. Many physicians have increased their telemedicine availability during the COVID-19 crisis due to a new waiver that allows Medicare to pay for office, hospital, and other visits via telemedicine. The waiver aims to ensure that Medicare beneficiaries, who are at higher risk for COVID-19, can visit with their doctor from their home and avoid the risks to themselves and others by visiting a doctor’s office or hospital.If your own doctor doesn’t offer telemedicine, consider doing a virtual visit with Doctor on Demand, Teladoc, or Amwell for primary care, urgent care, and behavioral health issues. Check with your health plan first to see if they offer telemedicine coverage with one of the services above, or through another preferred vendor.
- Prioritize Your Mental Health – It’s important not to lose sight of your own health and well-being when caring for a loved one. Make sure to take time to relax, de-stress, and focus on maintaining a healthy mental state. This could include making time to video chat with friends and family a few times a week, or as simple as reading a book, listening to a podcast, or doing an online workout class. Meditation is also an effective way to reduce stress, increase mindfulness, and improve your emotional health. Meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm are two popular options for getting started with guided meditation sessions and offer both free and subscription options. Ten Percent Happier, another virtual meditation service, is providing a free, live guided meditation at 3 pm EST every weekday, which will focus on finding peace during this time of uncertainty. The company is also offering any healthcare worker a free subscription to their app.If you think you need professional help, access to therapy is now easier than ever through apps such as Talkspace and Betterhelp, which enable you to talk with a therapist virtually through messaging and video calls. Therapy Plans vary across each service, but are generally a more affordable and convenient option than traditional, in-person counseling.
In conclusion, there are a lot of resources available to help you navigate caregiving during this difficult time. It’s normal to be feeling overwhelmed, and your first step can be as easy as starting a caregiving plan and sharing it with your friends and family. Stay informed, stay safe, and don’t forget to take time for your own health and wellbeing.