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4 Ways to Support the Elderly During COVID-19, From a Senior Care Worker

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I am privileged, in that, I still get to go to work every day. The “shelter-at-home” orders due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system — do not really pertain to me as I log 60 hours per week at work. It’s also true I am putting myself and my family at risk every time I clock in and clock out. I return home with cracked and dried-out hands from washing them and using hand sanitizer like my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) meds have been put on pause. My hands aren’t as big of a deal, it is the fact I could be a carrier without symptoms and have germs on my skin soap doesn’t wash off.

I work at a large senior center. We are made up of four care staff per shift and 50 residents. Each resident is confined to their room. Not only is that sad, but it is also trying on the family vibe we have worked so hard to foster. They are jealous I can wait in a 30-minute line at Starbucks and get pizza delivery at home. They tell me that they feel isolated and sad — movies are getting old and the news is depressing. There is only so much I can do. We are limited on personal protective equipment (PPE) and we do indeed have five residents in full lockdown. They are struggling with loose bowels and fevers, and there are limited COVID-19 testing kits, so God only knows if they have the virus. Hospice nurses fill the rooms like bees on honey and the home atmosphere slowly evaporates.

Right now, I am putting my physical health at risk to help others. Don’t call me saint, because it is scary. I try to bring energy to our COVID-19-driven “wacky Wednesdays” with silly headbands and bowties. I make jokes when their briefs rip and comment on how ridiculous their game shows are. I check in with them more than what is required and I ask them about their life to bring some joy into the room. When I see a smile, my shoulders let gravity do the work and I feel my lungs expand to full capacity — I think I may have made a small difference in their day.

So, here’s how to help the elderly during COVID-19:

1. Ask them about the past.

In my experience, elderly folks have many great stories and they tend to remember the good ones. Ask away and see what you get.

2. Bring them art supplies.

My residents love coloring, so books, crayons and pens are a hot commodity around here.

3. Suggest movies and TV shows.

I try to strike up a conversation about popular films and genres. I usually get to hear about older films I’ve never heard of, and that’s fine with me!

4. Help them organize their living space.

One of my residents thought it would be a “brilliant idea” to reorganize her drawers and cabinets. She got things cleaned to the best of her ability and her long-lost laugh came to surface. Some residents feel they don’t have control, so reminding them they have control over their living space is key.

There is hope in this dark time, and I have found these tips and tricks to be helpful. It seems we only talk about death rates in senior centers. I want to hear more about the good stuff. I want to take part in keeping them healthy and well. They should receive the attention, care and safety they deserve, and I will go to any length to give it to them.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

Getty image by Tera Vector

Originally published: April 14, 2020
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