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Published on May 26, 2020

A COVID plan for living alone

COVID Living Alone

Even in the best of times, living alone has its ups and downs.

And a pandemic would definitely qualify as a down if you are always navigating on your own, whether it’s shopping for groceries, walking the dog or all that endless meal prep. And, what if you live alone and become ill or take a fall?

However, there are steps single people can take to feel more secure about their mental and physical health in the face of COVID-19, according to Cape Cod Healthcare experts and others.

And take heart that if you live by yourself, you’re not alone, so to speak. A third of Barnstable County residents live in one-person households, according to the U.S. Census and more than half of them are 65 or over. Luckily, many of us live in communities where there are plenty of helpers, said Courtney Snook, MSW, a licensed independent clinical social worker for the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod.

“I think this is a time when people in the community have really come together and are there to support each other,” Snook said. “People are responding with kindness and generosity to help their neighbors even if they don’t know them that well.”

No matter how many people live in the household, you should try to make a pandemic plan for getting essentials and care, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The agency recommends that people who live by themselves, particularly those with chronic conditions, create a regular way to let family, friends or caregivers know they are OK. And they should know whom to alert if they have to call 911.

“You should always have emergency contacts, people you can count on in your community or family members that would be able to get to you easily if there were an emergency,” Snook said. It’s important to have a dependable way to call for help, she said, so make sure your cell phone is always charged and accessible, or that you wear a medical alert device.

This might also be a good time to learn a new technology, such as Zoom, Skype, Facebook Messenger or others that would help you connect with others, suggests a guide for singles published by Caring Communities, a collaboration between Emory University School of Medicine and other healthcare organizations in Atlanta.

Seek out online communities focused around your interests such reading, crafts or film. One place to start is the website of your favorite library, which may offer virtual activities such as book groups.

Research shows that empathy and helping others improves our mental health. Is there someone who would delight in a phone call or card? Could you safely drop off a meal or flowers? Or, check with community groups or political campaigns to see if they need volunteers to make phone calls or do other tasks from home. The Emory program recommends Catchafire.org, which matches volunteer skills with nonprofits throughout the country.

An Emergency Plan

Here are some more steps single households can take to manage life during the pandemic, or any other emergency:

  • If you need meals or groceries, contact local community organizations such as Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands; town hall, the council on aging, your school system, or houses of worship. Watch news reports or social media for community programs or neighbors offering to help. Just be careful to vet anyone you don’t know and be alert for scammers. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has good advice for protecting yourself against coronavirus scams.
  • If you need emotional support, Cape Cod Healthcare’s Centers for Behavioral Health 24-hour hotline, 1-800-513-4728, can connect you with a therapist or resource.
  • Keep enough food basics on hand to get you through a couple of days, Snook said. That might include bottled water or Gatorade for staying hydrated and non-perishable staples and frozen meals. And don’t forget basics like batteries.
  • Talk to your pharmacist about 90-day supplies of medication and/or mail delivery so you can cut down on trips to the store.
  • Make arrangements with a friend or family member to check in with each other every day via a simple wellness call or text.
  • Create an emergency response plan with your family and physician for how you will handle things if you do get sick or injured. Don’t fret over emergency care, even if you think you have COVID-19, said Dr. Ana Paula Oppenheimer, MD, MPH, an infectious disease expert with Cape Cod Healthcare. “Obviously if you're critically sick, you should get help and nobody's going to refuse to help you,” she said. “They will protect themselves, wear masks and gloves and gowns.” Your doctor may assess your symptoms in a telehealth call and if COVID-19 is suspected, send you for testing.
  • Discuss with your family and friends the options if you need care in your home. Think about the risk for the caregiver versus the critical status of the patient, Dr. Oppenheimer said. Consider your home and the options for limiting the spread or allowing everyone to socially distance as much as possible. For example, is there a spare bedroom or bathroom that could keep a sick person isolated from caregivers? “There’s always going to be the risk of getting something if someone in the household gets infected,” she said.
  • The pandemic is a good excuse for everyone over 18 to make sure they have a healthcare proxy, which appoints someone to make healthcare decisions for you if you incapacitated, Snook said. You also can fill out a MOLST form -- Massachusetts Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment -- that will let your family and your doctors know your wishes about care, such as being intubated, for example. Too often, families wait to the last minute to discuss decisions that then have to be made in a rush, Snook said. Instead, talking about medical options and end-of-life issues should be a normal way for families to let each other know their wishes. “Let’s have this conversation, let’s start having it often and make it a positive, not a negative thing,” she said.