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New Challenges and Help for Family Caregivers

By David Greenberg

As many of us have learned, one of the hardest challenges in life comes with serving as a family caregiver. And that’s the case when life is normal.

But as we all know, we are all facing unique circumstances right now. While things may get better in the coming months, as long as we are faced with COVID-19 and the difficulties of staying safe at home, the role of caregiver has even greater challenges. And we really don’t know what a so-called new normal will bring in the coming months – at least until there is a vaccine available for everyone.

Because of the current situation, local caregivers  are finding themselves in the same situation as those who may be living out of state or in another part of the country.

“Any time we care for an elderly loved one, there is a certain amount of creativity required,” said Jennifer Fitterman, a partner at Next Steps Senior Solutions, an agency that helps seniors and their families find the best senior living situations. “That’s the case whether you live in the same town, 500 miles away or 2,000 miles away. But with social distancing, we are now all in the same boat. That is especially true if you are caring for an older family member, and you have young children at home. You have to keep everyone safe, while social distancing and making sure your senior loved ones have healthy meals and access to their medications.”

Complicating the issue even more is the fact that often the biggest challenge for seniors is isolation.

“And now, we are literally putting our seniors in isolation,” said Fitterman. “How can you effectively care for your senior loved ones when you have to mitigate isolation?”

For many families, the answer is technology.

“Where and when it is practical, Alexa is doing drop-ins,” she said. “Virtual contact and calls can be incredibly important. Additionally, the use of delivery services has skyrocketed with groceries and prescriptions being delivered to seniors.”

With her own business, Fitterman saw an increase in the need for her services during the first month or so of staying at home. For many who were at the point when it was time to choose between staying in their three-bedroom, two-bath by themselves or moving to a senior  community, the current circumstances have forced a decision. But it has had challenges.

“How do you choose the right place when you can’t tour, can’t see it in person?” she said. Virtual tours have become the common practice. We are also setting up talks with people already living in the communities. We are doing everything possible so families can be confident moving their loved one to the right place.”

Another significant challenge during these unusual times is how to advocate for your loved one when it is needed. That’s something with which Norma Berger, of PALM Aging Life Management, has a great deal of experience. When things are normal, the geriatric care managers at PALM Aging Life Management advocate for seniors in a variety of ways, including the development of care plans, crisis intervention, relocation assistance, care coordination and more.

“Normally, we serve as advocates, often taking care of our clients in the hospital or other situations when family members are not available,” said Berger. “But obviously, things have changed. We still serve in that role, but we do it differently. Recently, a client had to be taken to the hospital. I brought her to the emergency room but could not go inside.”

However, she can still serve in that advocate role. And she can bring her clients to regular medical appointments outside of a hospital setting.

“Because of our experience and networks, we can do things the family cannot,” she said. “We have relationships with providers, and we stay in constant contact with them. If the person has special wishes, we make sure the providers know about them We can help coordinate services when it is time to leave the hospital. Do they need to go back home or to another facility? We coordinate those services.”

Berger can serve as a liaison between families and providers, and she can make sure her clients are doing everything they need to do.

“A lot of what we can do as advocates can still be done,” she said. “It just looks a little different.”

And that is true for everything related to caregiving during this unusual time.

Also in this issue:

Sam Boone on the importance of legal and medical documents during a pandemic

How to help each other from The Windsor

And Information about the Alzheimer’s Association Virtual Brain Bus and telephonic support groups and virtual Savvy Caregiver Training