TAKE CONTROL: First, don't underestimate the power of a simple phone call. “Research shows that even in one's final moments, the sense of hearing is the last to go,” says Lauren Wolf Weber, a geropsychologist in Tampa, Florida. “While this does not take the place of being physically present, the sound of your voice may provide your loved one great comfort.” Some facilities will arrange for residents to talk to you on the phone while they're standing near a window where they can see you outside. It sounds hokey, but you can stay close and still be physically distanced. Also, federal privacy laws have been eased, allowing facilities to take photos of Mom or Dad and send them to you electronically, adds nurse practitioner Barbara Resnick, a past president of the American Geriatrics Society. Small things like that can help you see they're OK.
Rate your personal reactions to COVID-19 — and use them to inspire change
- IF you feel panicked, plan something for the future, which increases optimism, says psychiatrist Robert L. Trestman of Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.
- IF you get sucked into a daily spiral of bad news, then seek out and share the good that happened in your day, Elizabeth Lombardo says. Positivity is contagious.
- IF you frantically hoard food and disinfectant wipes, then flip your thinking to an altruistic mindset, focusing on doing something for someone else, Trestman says.
- IF you have started snapping at loved ones, then stop yourself when you reach a level 6 out of 10 on your own personal stress scale, disengage and take a breather.
- IF you feel uncomfortable slowing down, then consider that you might come out of this with a new appreciation for the simpler pleasures of life, Froma Walsh says.
If you are homebound and missing visits from your regular caregiver
"Isolation can have negative psychological effects,” Wright says. “Connection is critical for everyone, in particular older adults.” Assuming your physical needs are being met, you'll now want to think about your emotional health.
TAKE CONTROL: The best way to overcome isolation is to become a caregiver for yourself, as best you can. Then turn your attention to others: Check in regularly with old friends through phone conversations, video chats, cards or letters, Walsh says. Refocusing your energies into concern for others can help you turn away from anxiety — and toward connection. And do the same for the caregivers who no longer can visit you. For instance, the group who brought meals to your door may not be able to do so anymore, but you can reach out to them to stay in close touch. Community faith leaders can also be a powerful resource for inspiration and suggestions on how to be of service to others.
If you are a caregiver, spouse or parent who is really struggling during this time
If you're used to relying on a network of friends, relatives and professionals to help you care for your vulnerable loved ones, you may now feel as if you're carrying the weight of the world on your own shoulders. In-home physical therapy appointments, bathing assistance, even just a reprieve so you can get out for a walk or to do some shopping — suddenly that help is gone, and it's on you, 24/7.
TAKE CONTROL: “It's easy to fall into worst-case-scenario thinking,” Wright says. Don't do it; it's ineffective. If you feel yourself sinking into negativity, try practicing “controlled worry,” she adds. Schedule a 30-minute period to sit alone and ruminate or write down your fears and worries. This simple practice has the power to help you contain your worries and free you to take action. Now, think “challenge.” Each day, review your schedule and all the tasks you need to accomplish. At the end of the day, congratulate yourself for meeting the challenge, then prep for tomorrow's. You can find guides for caregivers and the latest updates on safety recommendations at aarp.org/caregiving.
If you have peers, friends or family who are dying from the disease
Whether it's a friend, a family member or even a public figure who mattered to you, these losses are particularly scary, because it's natural to see yourself in this group, too. But what makes this situation especially difficult is that we're in a time when many funerals have been canceled or delayed indefinitely. That robs us of the time we need to mourn in order to gain closure and move on.
TAKE CONTROL: Some funerals are taking place online, and if you have the ability to watch the service on your computer, do so. Even if there's no formal ceremony, Lombardo says, “It's also important to reach out to loved ones to have the same conversation — sharing fond memories of the person who's passed, telling jokes — that you'd actually have with them at a funeral.” These things all allow you to process what's happened, honor their life and move on.