As of the time of this writing, COVID-19, known as the Coronavirus, has become a pandemic and lives and countries affected are growing exponentially with no end in sight. As government and private medical resources scramble for a viable vaccine, Americans struggle with the idea of social distancing and isolation. Some of the most widely affected are those who care for others – medical professionals and, in our interest here, informal caregivers.
The isolation already felt by caregivers can be greatly exacerbated by further restrictions on respite time or visits from friends and family. It is difficult to know with whom people may have come into contact and the danger to your family member is unpredictable. Even in-home care providers create a higher risk for patients and their caregivers.
For those with family members in a nursing facility, there is now a greater feeling of separation. Nursing care guidelines have restricted visiting hours or cancelled them entirely for all but hospice patients. Whatever stress caregivers face on a day-to-day basis are now greatly multiplied.
During this difficult time, it’s important that caregivers remember to practice additional self-care. Here are some tips that might help.
Protecting Yourself and Your Charge
First and foremost is protecting yourself and your family members from potential infections. Nothing is failsafe, but there are things you can do to minimize the potential hazards and it all starts with factual information.
How is the novel coronavirus that can cause COVID-19 spread?
Coronaviruses are primarily spread through respiratory droplets, which means to become infected, people generally have to be within six feet of someone who is contagious for an extended period of time, and have droplets land on them. This is very different from airborne diseases like measles, so the public health response is different.
To reduce your risk of getting any viral respiratory infection:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.
- Stay at home away from others if you are sick.
- Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
Dealing With Isolation & Monotony
It might be tough to battle the day-to-day monotony and isolation of caregiving but now it’s going to be even harder. Respite becomes all the more important but, with social safety restrictions and countless event and activity closings, it will be fleeting at best. Rest and diversion are vital to mental stability and calm.
Exercise. Find exercises you can do at home. Most streaming services offer some type of free exercise videos you can follow. Yoga and meditation can help too, or just go outside and take a walk, even if it’s just around the house. If you can, take your charge with you. Avoid contact with others, but open air is good for everyone. Try to find something to get your heart rate up.
Food. Be careful not to overeat. Ignoring the potential for supply shortages, if only to avoid the infection risk at the store, boredom will invite snacking and the potential to overeat. When you do shop, avoid buying chips or other unhealthy snacks and keep fresh fruit and veggies on hand. Citrus and other fruits will help to shore up your immune system. Provide the same to your family members if they’re able.
Proper hydration is also a concern during these trying times. As has been mentioned many times in the Old Nerd articles and podcasts, staying hydrated is vital to health. Be sure to keep healthy drinks like low or no-sugar fruit juice and water.
Sleep. Proper rest is critical to mental and physical health alike. It’s difficult enough to rest when your mind is full of worry and fear as a caregiver. Now, adding the virus concerns sleep will be even more fleeting. Still, make every effort. Avoid screens within an hour or so before trying to sleep and don’t watch the news. Read a book you like or play a game with your charge or other household members. Do something to take your mind off of everything before you try to sleep. Build a routine around it and do your best to hold to it.
KEY TIP: Avoid Social Media
It might seem, during such isolated times, that social media would be a great way to keep in contact with the outside world. But Facebook, Twitter and the like are far too full of false information, non-scientific nonsense and just flat-out negativity. None of this will be helpful for maintaining a sharp mental focus and a calm emotional state. Turn it off. If you want to talk to family and friends pick up the phone or video chat so you can see and hear them. That will comfort you, not the ravings of crazy internet trolls.
Hang In There.
Everyone must be in this for the long-haul. There is no vaccine for this disease yet in sight, but professionals are working hard. Follow the CDC guidelines and be careful. Proper hand-washing and advanced self-care will see it through.
We will be releasing more advice and information as available. In the meantime, here are some resources that might help.
SOURCES & RESOURCES:
CDC Definitions and Information on Quarantine and Isolation: https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/index.html
World Map of COVID-19 Infections: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/world-map.html
Parents are Caregivers too – Women’s Health & Pregnancy Resources