FAMILY CAREGIVING OF PATIENTS DURING COVID-19

Dr. Rajesh Khanna and Dr. Sneha Sharma

Caregivers of those with mental illnesses often face remarkable challenges providing appropriate support for the person with the disorder. While caregiving is often rewarding in many ways, a lot of caregivers might find themselves stressed and confused over the lockdown and in their ability to provide support to their loved ones during this period. This situation can suddenly over-burden you with a lot of things and it might be very stressful to handle all of them.

The lockdown will have implications on everyday lifestyles of all and the usual means of de-stressing and rejuvenation might not be accessible. Also, the sudden lockdown did not give enough time to caregivers to plan and come up with effective measures in place to deal with mental health crisis situations. We have tried to come up with some tips to assist those in caregiver role for individuals suffering from mental illnesses.

1. Monitor the mental health of your loved one, and keep in touch with their mental health team: Long term care of those suffering from mental illnesses does enable a care-giver to identify any change in behaviour. The change in behaviour should be monitored and any potential high risk behaviour should be discussed with the treating mental health team.

2. Ensure Routine: Maintaining the usual lifestyle and routine for yourself and loved one is of paramount importance. Adhering to a routine will ensure that certain basic biological factors are being taken care of, eg. sleep, healthy diet and physical activity. These in turn ensure positive mental health both for you and you loved one.

3. Refill Prescriptions: Ensure that enough of medical supplies and medications are stocked for an extended period.

4. Ensure compliance to medications: Stressful times can often precipitate an episode of mental illness or worsen the already existing condition. Under such circumstances it becomes crucial that medications are taken in adequate dosage and at appropriate times. Try and supervise the intake of medications to ensure compliance.

5. Share facts and information: Discuss COVID-19 with your loved one in an honest and age-appropriate way. Address their concerns to ease out their anxiety around the topic. Share simple facts about what is going on and give clear information about how to reduce risk of infection. Avoid unnecessary and sensational content.

6. Be future ready: Be prepared to manage any unforeseen circumstance. Along with supply to sufficient amount of medication, know in advance from where and how to get practical help if need, like calling a taxi, having necessary items delivered or requesting medical care. Also, one may need to double check the logistics of getting medical help in case of emergency, as the lockdown would put restrictions on the usual logistics, such as availability of transport.

7. Create a happy environment at home: This is the time when people can’t step out of their homes, and a person might not able to do normal activities which earlier rejuvenated him/her, be in walking in park or talking to people in the neighbourhood. Hence you need to create that kind of environment at home itself. Find new activities, create a surrounding where they feel relaxed, and motivate them to try out new things.

8. Go to the Emergency Room only in case of emergencies: If you suspect that you or your loved one is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, call your doctor. Avoid visiting emergency settings unless absolutely necessary.

9. Manage your own health: Many caregivers themselves have health issues, so give due importance to maintaining your own mental and physical well being. Don’t put yourself in unnecessary danger. Your wellbeing is the cornerstone in your loved one’s care.

These times are challenging for all. More so if you are providing for other’s well-being also. Your loved ones were already vulnerable and these difficult times can be even more challenging for them. Be extra-sensitive to their current situation and needs, and don’t hesitate to ask for external help if required. But remember, you need to maintain your own physical and mental health too. Don’t over-exert yourself or stress on things which are not important, as it may only cause negative impact on your loved ones. Be kind to yourself. 

The authors of this article are Dr. Rajesh Khanna, Dean SA (IIT Delhi) and Dr. Sneha Sharma, MBBS & MD (Psychiatry and Drug-Deaddiction).

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