Expert Q&A: Coronavirus and Caring for Seniors

By Kim Acosta, Managing Editor

We spoke with Suzanne Modigliani, co-author of Harvard Medical School’s “Caregiver’s Handbook,” about common fears related to the elderly and coronavirus. Modigliani has a master’s in social work and is an Aging Life Care Specialist in Brookline, Mass.

APFM: Many families are worried about not being able to visit their elderly loved ones in senior living communities.

Modigliani: The visiting issue is very upsetting to people. In Massachusetts, they are saying no extraneous visitors to assisted living communities. And for families who are usually quite involved … they can’t check on or provide the social interaction they like to have with family members.

Everyone’s seen the picture of the family members communicating through the window. It’s hard, but at the same the same time it’s heartwarming. Families understand that not only do they have to keep their loved ones safe, but that it’s important to keep talking to them [senior living community. If FaceTime or another video communication option is offered at the community, that could be a great option for safe interaction.

Should people remove their loved ones from senior living communities to more closely monitor the situation?

That’s a complicated decision for sure. Consulting with an aging life care manager could be helpful. What is the current care plan? How would that be implemented at home? What support is being provided at the community? There is a reason people are there.

We can all understand the emotion that makes us consider the move home. But we have to have a rational look at that. Can you really do it? Do you have the necessary space and supplies? Is it temporary? Is it permanent? Are you going to get sick of it?

What are other ways for families to stay connected with their loved ones?

A lot of my clients like picture frames that display scrolling photos. There are also letters. Even if the senior can’t read, the staff can read them aloud. People like to display cards. And care packages, perhaps with baked goods from home or a little something for their room.

What can caregivers who are caring for seniors at home do to prepare?

Having supplies is very important. Home care companies and senior living communities should have them, so that would be a good place to start.

Start thinking about the items that can be delivered directly to your home, such as meals or medications via mail pharmacy.

Have a care plan written out in case a caregiver gets sick and there’s a disruption in consistent caregiving. Think about those little things you’d want to tell someone, but couldn’t, if you weren’t feeling well.

How should families cope with anxieties about Coronavirus?

I’d recommend dealing with anxiety in the way you might for any other situation — eating well, trying to sleep well, keeping your body and mind healthy. This is important because it’s really going to be the long haul.