SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) – A recent survey by AARP shows nearly 45% of elderly caregivers and those they tend to are under mental stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because the elderly are at high risk of dying from a COVID-19 infection, health officials advise that keeping them in a safe bubble is crucial.
But that safety precaution means their direct caregivers, whether family members or hired help, also feel the need to isolate themselves.
“Those family members who are caring for an older adult at home have experienced increased social isolation,” said Theresa Harvath, the director of the Family Care Institute at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing in UC Davis.
In a series of online presentations for UC Davis and UC Davis Health, Harvath said there are 53 million caregivers nationwide who need support from family and friends.
She said frequent contact is key. Whether it’s a Zoom or FaceTime connection or a phone call, reducing isolation among the elderly can take many forms.
“Having somebody tell me a story or read me a story feels comforting,” Harvath explained.
Recreating family traditions can require flexibility and some imagination.
“Zoom sing-a-longs, Christmas caroling. Christmas caroling where you stay outside the home,” Harvath suggested.
AARP said large family gatherings can be replaced by more intimate experiences for an elderly person or for those who must isolate to care for them.
Shopping online together, sharing photos of items on your wish list, cooking a favorite holiday dish while connected on Zoom or FaceTime, and comparing and sharing those dishes afterward are a couple of additional ideas.
Harvath also said that connections don’t have to be electronic.
“Sending cards and letters to an older adult and the caregiver letting them know that you’re thinking about them,” Harvath suggested.
Deliver a tiny decorated tree or an ornament, or share a favorite holiday movie or religious service together are also ways of creating new holiday traditions.
Each idea takes effort but infectious disease experts say the alternatives are all too real.
“It may seem dramatic for us to sit here and say, ‘Well, the greatest gift you can give is life and not kill your family member or loved one.’ But that really is the reality,” infectious disease expert Dr. Natascha Tuznik told FOX40.
Many people are taking the warning to heart. The same AARP survey said 64% of caregivers expect to change their holiday traditions for the 2020 season.