Six Ways Caregivers Can Lovingly Care for an Older Adult During Shelter-in-Place

April 10, 2020 by Institute on Aging
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Beyond the basics, an in-home caregiver can provide much-needed companionship and serve as a buffer to loneliness for seniors not able to leave their homes.

79-year old Jobyna has dementia. Until recently, she spent a few days a week dancing, singing, playing games, and enjoying conversations and meals with her fellow seniors at a social day program held at Institute on Aging’s Enrichment Center in the Presidio.

All of that has dramatically changed for Jobyna, as it has for so many other seniors. Her days are now spent at home with her husband John, who manages much of her care. Two days a week, an in-home caregiver, Rayna takes over, giving John a much-needed break. Rayna came to the couple via another Institute on Aging service, Home Care & Support Services. Says John, who brought Rayna on right before the shelter-in-place mandate, “this was so fortuitous in light of IOA’s social day program closing. Now we have Rayna on Tuesday and Thursday….and Jobyna did not want her to leave at the end of her shift. I will try to get by on this for now during the awful pandemic.”

With weeks or perhaps months to go with shelter-in-place mandates, it’s becoming more and more challenging for seniors and their families. The challenges vary. Some older adults, who relied on meal services, are having difficulty with maintaining good nutrition, or simply missing the camaraderie they enjoyed at mealtimes. Others are having trouble with keeping up with simple tasks. Families who need to care for an aging family member are struggling to keep up while working at home and homeschooling their children. Many don’t know where to turn for help.

Institute on Aging’s Home Care & Support Services can help with caregivers who can come into the home for as little as 4 hours a day. Both clients and caregivers are carefully prescreened prior each home entry, and caregivers wear appropriate personal protection equipment.

Here are six ways that a home care worker can help seniors during this time, in addition to the basics of cooking, cleaning, shopping, and more:  

  1. Be a companion. “We are all so focused on the health side of things, but we can’t forget about our mental health,” said Mary Griffin of IOA. Humans are social beings, and seniors who live alone are particularly prone to feeling isolated and lonely with reduced human interaction, especially if family and friends are limiting or shortening their visits. A home care worker can play games with them, help put together puzzles, cook with them even just looking at old photo albums together and reminiscing about the past.
  2. Set up technology to make it easier for the senior when no one is around. Voice-driven devices, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, can be great for seniors because they can use them for functions such as turning on and off lights, the television and more. However, those devices must be set up in order to communicate with each other, which can be challenging for seniors. Home care workers can assist with the set-up process. If the senior owns a laptop or tablet, they can help them learn how to use video-chat programs such as Zoom or Google Meet in order to stay connected.
  3. Offer day-to-day reminders. Caregivers can post reminders about when to take medication, upcoming calendar events to remember (granddaughter’s birthday) and more in a place where seniors can easily access them. This is especially helpful for those with cognitive function disorders such as dementia. It can even be helpful to leave a note about the current state of affairs (we have to remain indoors during this period, and here is why….) so that those who have short term memory loss can recall why they are being asked to remain indoors.
  4. Be an exercise coach. Home care workers can provide a gentle nudge to get moving. Whether it’s a walk around the block or a walk around the house, even doing a little bit of movement can help stimulate mood-lifting endorphins. One caregiver at IOA puts on dance music for her clients and encourages them to get up and boogie. 
  5. Help stay connected to the arts. Many seniors are missing outings to local museums, the symphony and the theater, but many institutions are implementing virtual streaming of performances and places to visit, such as the San Francisco Symphony, ACT San Francisco and the California Academy of Sciences. Iconic destinations that would be normally be difficult to reach due to travel restrictions, such as the Louvre in Paris and Metropolitan Opera in New York, are free to visit online. A caregiver can help discover these opportunities.
  6. Tackle to-do lists. Perhaps its cleaning out a closet, rearranging dresser drawers or putting down shelf paper. Home care workers canmake headway on those tidying-up projects that have been on the list for months.

If you believe a caregiver from Institute on Aging’s Home Care & Support Services could be right for you, please give us a call at 415.750.4111 or 650.424.1411. We would be happy to talk about a customized plan that is right for your needs.

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