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Senior Citizens Face Double-Edged Sword of COVID-19

Senior Citizens Face Double-Edged Sword of COVID-19

August 18, 2020

Mary Gilliam, MBA, LNHA

            We’ve now had several months experience with COVID-19 and it’s become abundantly clear that senior citizens are the ones most at risk.  This is especially true for seniors with underlying health issues, such as serious heart conditions, lung disease, or a compromised immune system.  The relatively high COVID-19 infection and death rates among seniors is well documented and won’t be repeated here.  Instead, I’d like to focus on a less discussed risk associated with medical quarantine, a practice that is touted as the first line of defense when protecting this most vulnerable segment of our population.

Some argue that it makes intuitive sense to quarantine our vulnerable senior citizens from younger folks who may be infected with COVID-19 and capable of infecting others even though they, themselves, are completely asymptomatic.  Problems arise, however, if this medical quarantine turns into social isolation.

Social isolation comes with its own risks.  Seniors who are isolated from others in the community – whether it be at home or in a health care facility – risk succumbing to stress and depression which, in turn, can adversely affect the immune system.  Social isolation among seniors can increase disorientation and the risk of falls.  Isolation can reduce physical activity and that can lead to dehydration, along with urinary tract infection.  Social isolation can contribute to a solitary lifestyle that can reduce the level of mental stimulation and thereby increase the risk of dementia.  None of this is good for the seniors we are trying so hard to protect.

How do we keep a medical quarantine of our senior citizens from devolving into a form of social isolation?

For seniors who live in a health care community, we need to provide additional opportunities for increased social interaction.  This could include bingo over an audio system, outdoor walking groups, pen pal letters, and social distancing meals with a friend instead of eating alone in his or her room.

For seniors who live at home, we need to find creative ways to promote more social interaction and meaningful engagement.  Grandchildren can play outside so grandparents can see and physically interact with them.  Perhaps you can teach the seniors in your life to use FaceTime so they can stay connected to the family by watching important family activities, such as playtime with the grandchildren, family supper, and evening prayers before bedtime.  They might even be encouraged to engage in social activity via FaceTime with their friends in the senior community.  Essential caregivers can not only provide care, but also reduce isolation with social interaction.

As states continue to re-open their economies, there undoubtedly will be an increasingly greater amount of social interaction and an increase of COVID-19 infections among those whose health will be relatively unaffected by the disease.  All the more reason to protect our vulnerable senior citizens.  Let’s just re-double our efforts to ensure that medical quarantine doesn’t devolve into social isolation.

Caregiver Time – The Power of Our Time

ONE NINE: CAREGIVER TIME – THE POWER OF TIME

Mary Gilliam, MBA, LNHA, Certified Dementia Practitioner

 

The dawn of a new year is a good time for us to reflect on something extremely important.  Time – or in our case caregiver time.  This upcoming year has the same maximum amount of time for each one of us.  The same 24 hours in each   day.  The same 7 days each week.  The same 12 months in the year.  We each get to decide how we will use our time and when the day is over, the time we had is forever gone. The decisions on how we prioritize this time determine many things such as how we will perform at work and how our personal relationship will develop.  Time is the most valuable resource we have.

It seems like many people live life with the attitude that the busier one’s schedule is, the more significant their life. The ability to multi-task has become glorified to the point that focusing on one task at a time can be misinterpreted as laziness or unproductive.  As a culture, caregiving is a great opportunity to reconsider the way we place value on what we spend our time doing, in making choices and setting our priorities.

Cheryl Beaver, Director of Community Relations at Monarch Senior Solutions, recently spoke on the power of time.  She highlighted a plaque she had given her daughter hanging prominently in her room stating; “do something that fuels your soul.”

For millions of Americans, caregiving is what fuels a passion of purpose, empathy and love.  These moments of joy can come in the simplest of caregiving tasks.  Cheryl told a story of a recent client she had gone to visit late morning during her off time.  Upon entering the room, Cheryl noticed the client was still in bed, wet and weak.  She immediately helped her to a sitting position, gave her a bear hug to help stand her up when all the sudden the client started passing a large amount of gas.

“Did you hear that?” said the client and she was cradled between the arms of Cheryl.

“No, no, didn’t hear a thing,” responded Cheryl allowing her to maintain her dignity during this transfer.  A moment passed as they slowly transferred to the wheelchair.

Her client looked up, caught Cheryl’s eye and said, “Well, I hope your sense of smell is as bad as your hearing.”

The two of them burst out in a belly laugh and a normal caregiving moment was instantly turned into a lifelong memory.

Time well spent and inspiration looks different to different people.   For Cheryl, that moment where she allowed herself to slow down and make the client in front of her the most important person in the world.  Cheryl said that “E-Mails, phone calls, meetings, life stops in that moment for a short period of time to serve the person in front of me.”  That is the time that it well spent.  It is not scrolling through FaceBook, rather it is laughing with the person in front of you.  It is these moments, transferring a sweet, wet, thankful client to a chair and laughing until your stomach hurts over flatulence, these are the moments that matter.  These are the moments that allow us to create hope, be a blessing, be an inspiration and share our love wherever we go.

 

Mary Gilliam’s passion for serving seniors has become a lifelong mission.  She is the founder of Monarch Senior Solutions and responsible for leading the in-home care partners and senior advisors.

Mary holds a Master’s Degree of Business Administration with an emphasis on Health Care Administration and is a multi-state Licensed Nursing Home Administrator.  She has been in long term care operations since 2002 serving those in assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing.