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Managing caregiver stress during Covid-19

Be adaptable, set up video calls for your charge and don't forget self-care

Family caregivers, particularly those looking after seniors with dementia, may face potentially debilitating stress with the current circuit breaker situation and its accompanying social distancing measures.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but here are some tips that could ease the pressure of caregiving.

Maintain a calm environment

One key advice from the Alzheimer's Foundation of America is to remain calm and to limit what you say about the virus to the person you are caring for so as to not induce anxiety.

By doing so and by keeping the routine as consistent as possible, you can reduce behavioural problems related to dementia such as agitation and sleep disorders, which then reduces stress for you.

Be adaptable with routines

It may be tiring to keep reminding the elderly or the person with dementia to keep up with hygiene practices such as washing hands with soap for 20 seconds.

Modelling behaviour, setting up a schedule or putting up reminders in the bathroom can be helpful. An alcohol-based hand sanitiser can be a quick alternative if the person you are caring for cannot get to the sink or wash his hands easily.

Make alternative plans for care management

With the closure of many senior daycare centres, active ageing hubs and community activities, the caregiver should have a back-up plan for schedules or arrangements.

It is good to think about who would be the next caregiver in the family to take over, in case the primary caregiver falls ill or get quarantined.

This decision will help in the continuity of care and support for your elderly loved one without disruption.

When reaching out to other family members for help, primary caregivers should avoid judging the standard of care set by them in all these days and let others take over.

Families can consider a professional live-in caregiver or subsidised home personal care services - which are still available during the circuit breaker, on an hourly basis, a few times a week - to ease their workload and to also ensure that their loved one is well taken care of.

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Ask care facilities about remote communication plans

If your elderly parent has been attending a daycare or activity centre, it would be good to have one of the employees from your usual care provider contact your parent through phone or video calls.

Doing this allows your parent to continue to engage with his favourite worker and also gives you some time to relax while your parent is occupied.

Currently, most of these organisations in Singapore are reaching out proactively to their clients to check on their well- being and also engaging them in some activities virtually.

Set up a video chat session with relatives and friends

Reminiscing with memories and stories, having a virtual dinner together as an extended family, celebrating milestones on video calls and playing some online games together could be some of the activities that other family members could pitch in to do. This also gives the elderly a sense of belonging and help them avoid feeling lonely .

Explain the pandemic and the circuit breaker in simple terms to the elderly

However, do not give too many details to make them worried. Reassure them and tell them the importance of staying indoors and staying safe. For those with dementia who still have vivid memories of their younger days, discussing the pandemic and drawing references to similar outbreaks that happened in the past will help them better understand the current situation.

Caregivers should not neglect self-care and me time

It is important to deal with stress by taking breaks from listening or watching news about the pandemic. Take care of your body too. Practise taking deep breaths or meditate. Eat healthy meals, exercise regularly and get enough sleep.

The writer is the medical director of Active Global Home & Community Care.