Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Ken Takeya, a family caregiver who also leads a caregiver support group in Kailua, is answering questions from new caregivers during this coronavirus pandemic. Some have become caregivers because they lost their job and are at home with their mom or dad. Others were forced to become full-time caregivers because their senior day care center shut down.
“All of a sudden, a lot of them are at home,” Takeya said.
His main advice for new caregivers is: Don’t do it alone. Have a plan. And take care of yourself first.
A caregiving plan also includes figuring out what to do if a family caregiver gets sick. That’s why it is important to build a support network and to make sure everyone in your network knows what to do.
Takeya has always been a careful and detail-oriented caregiver. But the coronavirus pandemic means he is taking extra precautions. He tries to shop online as much as possible and opens packages outside his home, wiping down the outside of the box with Clorox wipes.
Two caregivers, both of whom Takeya has known for a long time, help him care for his wife. They put on disposable booties when they enter his house and immediately go to the sink and wash their hands when they enter.
While the caregivers are at his home, Takeya makes time for himself — walking his dog and taking care of his fish and vegetable garden, part of an aquaponics setup that allows him to raise fish and vegetables for food. He likes to build things, so home improvement projects are relaxing for him.
He says it’s critical that new caregivers “don’t try to take on the whole thing themselves, especially if they haven’t done it before,” Takeya said.
Help is available for caregivers who need support. Call Aloha United Way’s 2-1-1 information line for help in getting food and other services and to learn about support groups. You can also call your county’s agency on aging. Go to bit.ly/HIcovidcaregiver for a list of local phone numbers that can be of help to you. AARP also has a toll-free caregiving resource line at 1-877-333-5885 and online resources at aarp.org/caregiving. Additionally, you can join AARP’s Facebook support group for caregivers at https://www.facebook.com/groups/aarpfamilycaregivers/.
To help meet caregiver needs during the pandemic, AARP launched the Community Connections online platform to help connect caregivers, küpuna (elders) and volunteer groups willing to help at aarpcommunityconnections.org. Users can request a call from an AARP volunteer or a trained counselor; easily create an account with Savo (joinsavo.com) to make connecting with their families easier; and join “The Mighty,” a safe, supportive online community for people facing health challenges and their caregivers.
As we stay at home and social distance, it’s also important to not be so distant that we become socially isolated. If you self-isolate or if your loved one is in a nursing or care home and cannot receive visitors, take steps to make sure you and your loved ones receiving care remain socially connected. Humans need contact with others and loneliness and social isolation can be detrimental to your health. If you are not a caregiver, reach out and call your friends and neighbors who are caregivers or who are kupuna living alone.
Here are some other tips to help you stay connected:
• Set up communication using a variety of technology — FaceTime or Skype, smart speakers, or simply phone and text with your team. Start using this now so that you are all in frequent communication.
• If possible, check with the facility your loved one is in to see if they have made accommodations for online visits using technology like FaceTime or Skype and how they plan to communicate with families.
• If they cannot support visits via technology like Alexa, Google Home or FaceTime visits, send cards, letters, magazines, puzzles or other items you know your loved one would be happy to receive. Talk with your facility management about the safest way to deliver items.
Here are tips for building your caregiving team:
• Compile a list of individuals in your family or friends network and services in your community that can help you perform some key caregiving tasks.
• While there may be one primary family caregiver, identify other family members, friends and/or neighbors who can check in or help with shopping and important errands.
The pandemic will eventually end. But having a caregiving plan and taking care of your physical and mental health will help family caregivers for their entire caregiving journey.
Craig Gima is communications director at AARP Hawai‘i. He is an award-winning multimedia communicator with more than 30 years of experience in telling stories online, in print and on television. A Honolulu native, Gima spent nearly 19 years at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a variety of roles before joining AARP in 2016.