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Virtual village supports Maui’s caregivers

AGING MATTERS

Family caregivers often experience social isolation and the current pandemic makes the risk of isolation more likely. What can we do as a community to alleviate isolation while following safe social distancing principles that have helped to flatten the pandemic’s curve? We can create a virtual village of support for the caregivers we know.

CAREGIVER ISOLATION

With the closure of traditional support systems, caregivers have even fewer resource options. Additionally, caregivers that are still working have faced layoffs, reduced hours, or shifted to work-from-home situations thus increasing their caregiving responsibilities.  

ACTION STEPS

Think about all your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors. Make a list of those who are caring for loved ones either part or full-time. Keep this list visible and add to it as caregiver names come to mind.

When caregivers face overwhelming challenges it can be difficult for them to identify specific needs and then reach out to get those needs met. Begin a second list of specific steps you can take to help family caregivers. This second list will allow you to contact caregivers and offer specific help rather than offering the standard offer of, “let me know how I can help.” Here are some examples:

1. Offer to run errands. Plan the errand when you are already out doing your own grocery shopping or other errands. AARP recently published an article outlining steps that protect both the errand runner and the delivery recipient. For more details visit the AARP article online at go.hawaii.edu/HNA.

2. Deliver one or more meal(s). While preparing the meal follow all of CDC’s standard food safety guidelines. Additionally, practice the same delivery steps outlined in example No. 1. For additional guidance on safe food handling visit the CDC’s food safety site at go.hawaii.edu/ANt and their COVID-19 food safety article at go.hawaii.edu/ANY.

3. Be a listening ear. Find out the best time to call and then check in regularly at that time. Plan plenty of time so your friend has your undivided attention to vent, cry, laugh, or enjoy a few moments of respite.

4. Pick up and deliver medications. This includes both over-the-counter and prescription medications for the caregiver and care receiver. Recommendations range from having at least a one-month supply up to a three-month supply and may vary depending on the type of medication and health insurance. Remember to follow the same delivery steps outlined in example No. 1.

5. Identify virtual resources. The following local agencies are just a few that provide virtual resources to caregivers and their family. Maui County Office on Aging continues to assist the public via phone at (808) 270-7774 with in-person appointments possible when scheduled ahead of time by phone; their website also provides a wealth of information at www.mauicountyadrc.org. Maui Adult Day Care has shifted caregiver support groups to individual phone check ins as well as phone consultations; contact Kathy Couch at (808) 871-5804. Alzheimer’s Association, Aloha Chapter is offering both online workshops and telephone support groups; contact Christine Spencer at cespencer@alz.org. The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at (800) 272-3900 remains open and ready to help caregivers in crisis as well as those needing support. Na Hoaloha created a new “Virtual Volunteer” program that includes phone check ins and resource information for immediate needs such as food, water, essential supplies, and medications; contact them at (808) 249-2545 or visit www.nahoaloha.org.

6. Make and deliver a face mask. When checking in by phone with family caregivers find out if they need masks. If they do, visit CDC’s website with information on sewn and no-new masks, go.hawaii.edu/ANN.

7. Create a memory book. Care receivers with memory impairment, including dementia, often have clear memories of childhood and early adulthood. Caregivers may have a shoebox of memorabilia that with the right talent can be turned into something that can keep kupuna safely occupied.

8. Video chat. A video chat with a care receiver that includes singing familiar songs or talking story not only helps kupuna but can also provides a few moments of respite for the caregiver.

9. Create a playlist. Talk with the caregiver to learn about both their favorite music as well as their care receiver’s favorites. Put together a playlist that can be enjoyed at any time.

Reach out today to the family caregivers you know to let them know you care. During the next week, identify specific steps you can take to create a village of support around our family caregivers. Your actions will not only help caregivers and their families but will also make your social isolation a little happier as well.

* Heather Greenwood-Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Aging and Intergenerational Programs. Today’s column was written jointly with Chad Junkermeier who is with UH Maui College. Aging Matters covers topics of interest to older adults and their families in Maui County and appears on the third Saturday of each month.

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