Dear Readers: This is a time of uncertainty for everyone, but for people who care for older adults and other vulnerable people, it’s terrifying.

Older adults are especially at risk for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, and you want to take care of them, but…

  • Residents in facilities are being cared for, but you are likely not allowed to visit, and facilities, too, are short-staffed because of exposed or ill caregivers.
  • Those at home alone will be more at risk with no one to care for them as even professionals are challenged to find creative ways of providing help.
  • Family caregivers who live with someone who has dementia are facing enormous challenges with perhaps fewer supplies and no outside help.

This is, perhaps, the ultimate day-at a-time scenario. Everyone is helpless to some degree, some more than others.

The care facility visitors ban

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Years ago, when there was a major flu epidemic during the time that my parents were in a nursing home, families were banned from visiting for 14 days. I relied on the phone for keeping in touch with my mom.

For Dad who had dementia and couldn’t use the phone, I printed out a pile of daily messages from me that the nursing home staff could give him — one each morning (mailing a card would work, too).

Yes, there were deaths, but that was a walk in the park compared to what is now happening. Additionally, we knew the facility staff and could trust that they would do the right thing.

I can only imagine your terror if your parents are newly placed in a facility where they haven’t yet been able to settle in, or perhaps worse if they are in a facility that you don’t trust at the best of times. You’ll have to do what we all must at this time and make your best decision based on your personal circumstances. Hard. Incredibly hard.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Carol Bradley Bursack's Minding Our Elders columns

A parent home alone?

Are vulnerable elders home alone with no one to care for them because entering their living space also represents a risk? Only you, in tandem with your parents’ health care providers, can decide how to proceed.

However, if loneliness is their main risk, here are two suggestions:

  • The Friendship Line (https://www.ioaging.org/services/all-inclusive-health-care/friendship-line): This is a free service from the Institute of Aging. “The call-out services act... by improving the quality of life and connectedness of isolated callers.”
  • GeriJoy or other tech services (https://www.gerijoy.com/): I’ve heard from some users that this interactive tablet is excellent (there are others, of course). "The GeriJoy Companion uses a special tablet and a remote team of human caregivers… to provide personalized, around-the-clock emotional support and real, stimulating social interactions." It can also serve as a medication reminder.

The caregiving community is trying to cope with unprecedented challenges, so there is no comprehensive answer that is right for everyone. Work with health providers and then make your decisions based on what you know about your loved ones and their needs.

As is always the case with caregiving, your best is all you can do.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.

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