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VNA of Cape Cod

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Published on April 17, 2020

What to do about mom and dad during COVID-19 crisis

Elderly Care

We all want to reach out and hug the elders in our lives right now, but the experts have one word of advice: don’t.

“As contagious as this virus is and as dangerous as it is for people who are older, the best way to protect them is not to expose them,” said Ann-Marie Peckham, RN, MSN/MBA, president of the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod. “In-person contact has to be cut off for the time being.”

Peckham knows how hard this can be. She grew up in Providence and her mother still lives in Rhode Island.

“My mom doesn’t use email and she doesn’t have a Facebook page, so I’ve been calling her more than normal,” she said. “My sisters and I talk to each other and coordinate who’s going to call her each night and each morning.”

Whether it’s a family call on Zoom, lots of emails, letters from grand kids or a bumped-up number of phone calls, reach out to elders through whatever technology is comfortable for them.

“Our elders thrive on the social contact that’s normally available to them at family gatherings, senior centers and restaurants, so social distancing is very challenging for them,” she said.

Encourage your older friends and loved ones to stay active. Many of them are used to being out and about, doing errands or going on walks.

“Any movement is better than none,” she said. “Think of it as taking a break from doing nothing. We tell them, if you’ve been sitting while reading a book or watching TV for a couple of hours, you need to get up and move to the extent possible. Do some light housework, walk around inside your house and go up and down a flight of stairs. Get some fresh air.”

Dealing With Anxiety

Anxiety prevention is another part of self-care that seniors should be doing.

“People are trying to figure out what they can watch without becoming scared,” she said.

“There's so much information and some of the sources are reliable and some of the sources might not be reliable. The processing center in our brain can only take in so much. I know my Mom pretty much has her remote control set on Hallmark Channel and the channel with all the “Perry Mason” reruns, and we're seeing the same thing with our patients.”

Sometimes, a visit is necessary, perhaps to deliver groceries or medications or to go on an essential errand.

“Our staff has to go in and see certain patients. We started early on in this journey to reinforce constantly the need to prevent ourselves from carrying the virus into a patient’s home.

“We reinforced good hand hygiene; really scrubbing with soap and water for 20 seconds. Stay six feet away from people, even a loved one, if possible. If you need to cough or sneeze, cover your face. If you need to deliver something to someone, do it without contact by dropping it at their doorway.”

If your older loved one has a medical appointment or any medical complaints, call before going to a doctor’s office.

“Some physicians’ offices are limiting the number of patients per day and rescheduling routine appointments for a later date,” she said. “At this point, it's still advisable to have as minimal social contact as you can, no matter what that means. Call the physician, run any problems by them and get their advice.”

As much as we worry about elders who don’t live with us, it’s crucial to remember that isolation equals prevention, she said.

“As easy as it is to catch the coronavirus, isolation is the easy way to prevent it.”

Keep our elders safe, and when this is over, there will be plenty of time to catch up on the hugs we’re missing right now.