What a year it has been for professionals serving seniors, our clients, and our families. It is safe to say that none of us have probably experienced what has been a months-long pandemic in which our families are isolated, and many of us are still working from home. As we get closer to the holidays and reflect back over the past year, most of us probably know someone diagnosed with COVID-19 at this point, and some of us may have even lost loved ones. Looking back to last January, we could hardly have imagined the reality we are facing now.
As professionals in the field of aging, we have seen the terrible toll this virus has had on the aging population. Reports of increased social isolation and loneliness are in the news daily. The holidays are when we reunite with our families to find joy, peace, and comfort. It will be very different this year. Each of us has the ability and the responsibility to do what we can to help our clients, patients, residents, and their families through this challenging holiday experience.
Who Are the High-Risk Groups?
Any aging person who lives alone is at risk for loneliness, and we now know that loneliness has serious mental and physical health consequences. Although it varies by state, and even region, most senior living communities (including nursing homes) are on lockdown. Seniors can’t go out, and families can’t go in. Group dining is discontinued, as are many activities.
Many of these senior communities do an excellent job keeping residents spirits up, and the holidays will be an opportunity for activities directors to use their creativity. If an older adult lives at home, the possibilities are more flexible since the family can visit following safety protocols. But, many families will not take the risk of traveling from out of town to see an aging loved one.
Some families will opt to take their loved ones out of their senior living community for the holidays and then return them where they will need to quarantine for 14 days to ensure that all residents and staff stay safe. This can be a terrific time for Home Care Assistance to assist a resident transitioning back into the community. A caregiver can provide companionship while they are isolated, keeping the resident engaged with enrichment activities, facilitating FaceTime with family members and other personal care needs. Older adults who are at the highest risk for loneliness and a tough time during the holidays have the following in common:
- Pre-existing medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s
- Lack of transportation
- Mobility issues
- Problems with self-care like bathing, dressing, or completing household tasks
- Family members that live at a distance, or are estranged
- The recent loss of a spouse or close friend
- Previous problems with depression or anxiety
As Professionals, How Can You Help?
As a professional, there are many ways you can help. It is easy to get caught up in managing your personal family gatherings and keeping everyone safe. Here are some suggestions on how to help your clients, colleagues, and yourself!
- Reach out to clients. Think about the clients that are at the highest risk for loneliness and isolation. Connect by phone to see if they need anything or drop a handwritten note, card, or small gift to let them know you are thinking of them.
- Suggest home care to your clients and families. It can be a challenge for families to know how their loved ones are faring in isolation. Recommend home care as a way to provide assistance and companionship during this difficult time.
- Broach the subject of counseling. Seniors who are isolated are at much higher risk for mental health problems like depression. Medicare now pays for teletherapy using video or phone contact. A senior doesn’t even have to leave the comfort of their home to benefit from counseling.
- Recommend home delivery services. For seniors who can’t get out, home delivery is a great way to stay safe while getting what they need. In most urban areas, there are meal delivery services. Many seniors are turning to Amazon prime to get needed supplies delivered to their doorstep in a short period of time.
- Consider the health and well-being of other professionals. Even professionals struggle during this time if they can’t be with family and friends. Use video conferencing platforms to stay connected and check in with people during the holidays.
- Take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself sometimes takes a back burner to all of the other obligations you have. But, it is vitally important to manage your own health and well-being so you can be there for others.
Tips for Keeping Seniors and Family Members Safe
As professionals who work with seniors, we have a duty to reinforce safety protocols and lead by example. The holidays are a risky time for seniors and their families. The need and desire to get together can overshadow the importance of safe behavior.
Remind seniors and their families that this too shall pass and that everyone’s safety is the most important thing right now. Suggest ways of connecting that don’t involve personal contact. Technology is such an excellent way for seniors to stay connected with their families, but most of them are unfamiliar with using it. Home care caregivers can assist seniors with learning and coordinating virtual family visits.
Thanksgiving and the Holidays: You Can Help
These holidays might be the most challenging we have ever seen, but you can help. During this time, your expertise and compassion will make a difference in the lives of the clients and professionals you work with.
If you have clients that are family caregivers, Home Care Assistance has The Family Caregivers Guide to the Holidays. This guide covers everything from recipes, how to manage someone with dementia, to self-care and holiday gifts. Share this wonderful guide with your family, clients, and other professionals.