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March 13th, 2020

What happens when breaking rule Number One is the Number One rule?

by Carol Zernial

We’re isolated in our own homes. We can’t just run out to the store. We’re cut off from our family and friends. Coronavirus? No, just an average day in the lives of many caregivers.

Caregivers already self-isolate in so many ways. Even when we’re not dealing with an infectious disease, we can feel like we are already quarantined much of the time. That is why the number one rule for caregivers is “Don’t isolate! Don’t isolate!” So what happens in the era of coronavirus when the number one rule for persons at highest risk –those 60 years of age and over OR those with weakened immune systems – are told to self-isolate?

First, we need to be aware if there are any confirmed cases of coronavirus in our community. Our local health department and the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) are the best sources of information.

Next, we don’t want to become cut off from the assistance we need if the recommendation is not to go out and about. We may even have to ask others not to come in person if there is risk of exposure. Now is a good time to get a telephone buddy – a family member or a friend who can check on us and the person we care for daily. This person can then reach out to the appropriate resources if our situation becomes worse for any reason. Think of them as a friendly visitor who checks on you by phone. Perhaps you do the same for someone else. Live conversation is a great way to relieve the vacuum of physical isolation.

You can also use the phone to connect with a free resource that we offer, the Caregiver SOS program of the WellMed Charitable Foundation. Learn more at www.CaregiverSOS.org or call toll-free at 1-866-390-6491.

Now is also a good time to ensure everyone in the household has filled prescriptions as allowed through our health plans and pharmacies. Many health plans are waiving co-pays for testing of coronavirus if one becomes necessary (once the test kits become available in the area). Many clinics are using telephonic visits, or telehealth, to work through illness concerns and to keep people at home.

We’re not going crazy stockpiling stuff, but we are cooking a meal with fresh ingredients and putting half back in the freezer for those days we can’t go out or don’t feel like it. Cook once, eat twice is our motto.

Finally, fresh air, sunshine, and a bit of exercise are always on the list of caregivers. And the great outdoors, particularly a backyard or front porch, allow you to stay away from others while still enjoying the outside world.

Remember, you can stay safe and stay connected.

WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director Carol Zernial is a noted gerontologist, radio show host, and emeritus Chair of the National Council on Aging. The non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation focuses on complimentary programs impacting seniors and family caregivers, including weekly telephone learning sessions, evidence-based classes on stress reduction and more.