Safety for your elder goes beyond falling.
When we talk about keeping our elders safe, we usually focus on home safety and ways to mitigate falls. Maybe it’s all the news coverage of the coronavirus and the known risk to our frail loved ones, but healthcare safety is on my mind right now.
Protecting your loved one’s physical and emotional health should not be a reaction to what is going on currently. Nor should you ignore your own physical and emotional health as a family caregiver. Maintaining healthcare safety is an ongoing process that can be made easier with a few simple steps.
If your loved one is sleeping more, seems fatigued all the time or is uninterested in eating, take note. These are symptoms of several health problems but can also be caused by the flu or chronic, long-term pain. If these symptoms continue for more than a couple of days, it’s time to call the doctor, even if your elder brushes off the idea. Pay special attention to these symptoms during flu and cold season which runs from November to March and if they follow being out in crowds, the doctor’s office or after someone visits.
Sanitize your living space with disinfectant that works against the cold and flu virus. Along with washing your hands and not touching your face, taking this step can help to avoid getting ill. To keep from spreading germs, use paper towels or disposable disinfectant wipes. Wipe the surface and let it dry to give the disinfectant more time to do its work.
Concentrate on the bathroom and kitchen where different people are touching the surfaces. Don’t forget to disinfect phones, remote controls and computers, which may also be used my multiple people.
If soap and water are not available or your elder cannot stand steadily for the 20 seconds needed to wash their hands, then a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol is the next best thing, according to the CDC. Keep supplies such as tissues, wipes and hand sanitizers readily available where your loved one spends their time.
In addition to these steps, have a conversation with your loved one about what environment or foods will give them comfort if they fall ill.
- If they are not feeling hungry, then would they prefer pudding or apple sauce to help take medications?
- Is there a favorite liquid they like to drink, like hot or cold tea? Be careful of the sugar content of drinks like Gatorade which have a high sugar content.
- What is their favorite comfort food? Is it something sweet like chocolate or savory?
- If they are feeling confined to just the bedroom, is there another room you can create as a germ-free zone and quarantine youngsters, like grandchildren, from entering?
- Is there a bathroom that you can designate to everyone but the person who is ill?
If you are worried about being able to leave the house for several weeks, then look at medications and determine when they will run out. If your insurance will not pay for medicine ahead of time, then consider asking your primary care physician for a partial prescription to minimize the cost.
On your supply list, consider including zinc lozenges, incontinent supplies and latex-free medical gloves for an added layer of protection for you. Don’t forget additional soap for hand washing, tissues and garbage bags to dispose of anything that might be contaminated.
In a situation like we have now with the Coronavirus (COVID-19), an excellent source for healthcare information during a crisis is the website for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and many hospitals have hotlines. Pay attention to your state press conferences. This is where you will get up to date information of hot spots and any restrictions being put in place.
If you need to bring your loved one to their primary care physician, be sure to call ahead. If either of you are ill, they should have protocols for coming into the office, like bringing you directly into a room instead of sitting in the waiting room. Mom has a regularly scheduled appointment in a couple of weeks and her primary has already notified us to come to a different office designated as a “wellness” office. If either one of us is not feeling well, we must call and let them know so that they can schedule us into the other office.
Keeping healthy during an illness
Dehydration is always a problem with our elders. It is a particular risk when they are ill. If they have a hard time getting down enough fluids, then have food on hand has a high concentration of fluid. It will be helpful to have these foods on hand: soups (watch sodium content), Jell-O, cottage cheese, yogurt, pudding, ice cream and gelatin. These fruits and vegetables have high water content as well: leafy green vegetables, carrots, apples, grapes, watermelon and any type of berry.
Because they are not feeling well, getting them to eat can be an issue, which is a particular risk for diabetics. A smoothie with mostly vegetables and some fruit is something they may find soothing and has great nutritional value.
The truth is we are vigilant and work hard at keeping our loved ones healthy. But we can’t control what happens in the world and our community. These extra steps of preparedness can help those of us who are caregivers to minimize our worry and that of our elders.
With thanks to Denise M. Brown of caregiving.com and Jessica Sima of The EveryDay Nurse for the hints included in this article gleaned from their presentation “Coronavirus at Home” which was presented to Certified Caregiving Consultants.
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” Rosa Parks
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.