When we wrote the first version of Understanding Coronavirus in early March, we responded to all your burning questions about handwashing, social distancing, how the virus spread, and PPE. Today, as we enter the tenth month of living with the pandemic, we’ve noticed a shift in the types of questions coming to us.

Early on, your questions centered on keeping yourselves, your employees, and your clients safe during the pandemic. Today, your concerns reflect your desire to live and thrive despite the pandemic.

Here are a few of the most thought-provoking questions we’ve recently received through email, social media, phone conversations, and webinars.

1. Is it really as dangerous as they say?

We’ve had ten months of news about cases surging, deaths rising, and hospitals reaching capacity. Yet, a large portion of the public (particularly those not in the healthcare field) are saying, “I’m not sick. No one in my family has gotten sick. And I don’t know anyone who has died. Is this thing really that dangerous?”

In a word, yes! The virus that causes COVID-19 is a smart and sneaky master of deception. You can have it (and spread it to others) without having any symptoms at all. So, while you seem fine, the virus is using your body to get to others. And while more than 80% of people infected with the virus will recover, those who don’t suffer a long, painful, and often lonely death.

Why is a COVID-19 death so horrible? The COVID-19 virus behaves in strange and unexpected ways. It doesn’t just attack the lungs like other respiratory viruses. It sends the body’s blood clotting system and inflammatory response into complete disarray. This leads to damaging consequences on all the body’s organs (heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, etc.). So, while it is classified as a respiratory virus, COVID-19 attacks the entire body.

2. What’s the most important precaution we can take?

At this point in the pandemic, we all know the importance of washing our hands, wearing a mask, and socially distancing. But of those three precautions, social distancing is truly the most important. We don’t know if we have the virus ourselves, and it’s impossible to tell if someone else has it. If you can limit your exposure to others, you stand the best chance of stopping the spread of the virus.

Of course, that doesn’t negate the need for masks and handwashing. If you absolutely must be around other people, try to stay at least 6 feet away, wear a mask, and wash your hands!

Caregivers who must come in close contact to provide personal care should wear a mask and ask the client to put on a mask, even if they don’t feel sick. Limit talking while in close contact with clients. And perform personal care quickly and efficiently to minimize the time you are in close contact.

3. How can we keep the pandemic from negatively impacting our seniors’ mental and physical health?

There is no way around it. The pandemic IS negatively impacting seniors’ mental and physical health. A recent study in The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging found that “Mental and physical health in older people are negatively affected during the social distancing for COVID-19.” But there are some things we can do to reduce the impact. The findings recommend encouraging seniors to do all of the following:

  • Strengthen social connections with friends and relatives using internet apps, video chat, telephone support lines, or support groups.
  • Increase the use of digital resources such as the internet, online books, and social media.
  • Follow a regular sleep-wake cycle.
  • Exercise 5–7 days per week.

4. What’s the best way to protect people with Alzheimer’s or dementia who may not understand what’s happening?

One caregiver asked, “What do you do if a client with dementia doesn’t understand how to keep herself safe from the virus. I have a client who touches everything, then touches her face and puts her fingers in her mouth. Any suggestions?”

The best way to respond to a dementia-related behavior like this one is to use redirection techniques. In this case, you could give her something (safe) to do with her hands.

  • Give her something to hold, such as a stress ball or a baby doll.
  • Give her activities to do, such as folding dish towels or matching socks.
  • Have her sit at a table and look through a photo album or a book with pictures.
  • Try a simple craft, such as stringing pasta onto yarn. Since she likes to put things in her mouth, be careful with anything that could be a choking hazard.
  • If the family is able, you might suggest they order a fidget blanket. This is a small blanket with pockets, zippers, and ties for when hands need to be distracted.
  • Search the internet for “fidget toys for older adults living with dementia” for loads of other options.

Be sure to encourage (and assist) the person living with dementia to wash her hands throughout the day or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The Alzheimer’s Association says:

  • People living with dementia may need extra support to remember important hygienic practices from one day to the next.
  • Consider placing signs in the bathroom and elsewhere to remind people with dementia to wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds.
  • Demonstrate thorough handwashing.
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be a quick alternative to handwashing.

And finally, be patient! It’s clear you only want to protect your client, but it won’t help anyone if you get stressed out about it. Take comfort in the fact that you are keeping her hands as clean as you can throughout the day, so if she does touch her face or her mouth, the chances are low that she will infect herself.

5. Is it ever going to end? Are we ever going to get back to normal?

This question requires a bit of a crystal ball! No one really knows how or when this pandemic will end. But you can take comfort in the fact that it will certainly stop being a danger on the pandemic level at some point. As far as getting back to normal, that’s not so simple. Once a virus emerges, it is nearly impossible to eradicate it. We may need vaccines yearly (or more frequently) for the rest of our lives, and unless the vaccine makes us 100% immune, we may need to wear masks in group settings for a long time.

Keep Your Team In the Know!

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