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Helping Family Caregivers Cope with Social Distancing

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Keeping in touch with loved ones through text or video chats can help fight feelings of isolation. (ulza/Adobe Stock)
Keeping in touch with loved ones through text or video chats can help fight feelings of isolation. (ulza/Adobe Stock)
 By Andrea Sears - Producer, Contact
March 25, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- With social distancing taking hold across Pennsylvania, family caregivers and those they care for can find help to stay safe and healthy in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered residents of seven counties to stay home for the next two weeks. There are 1.6 million family caregivers in the Keystone State, and those who depend on them are among the most vulnerable to infection.

Bill Johnston-Walsh, AARP Pennsylvania state director, said caregivers may need to find new ways to provide for their loved ones' needs.

"We want to practice social distancing, but not social isolation," he said. "It's key that people continue to take care of themselves -- but at the same time, don't forget about those individuals that are by themselves."

Family caregivers can find help and advice online at or through AARP's toll-free family caregiver support line at 877-333-5885. Johnston-Walsh said the caregiver support line is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. to answer questions anyone may have about the challenges of caring for vulnerable individuals such as "Is it OK to go and visit someone? What do I need to do? What are some of the safety precautions I need to put in place while I'm going to visit someone that I'm taking care of?"

AARP recommends inventorying essential items such as food and medications, ordering extra, and using services such as Meals on Wheels to help when needed. If personal visits are difficult or can't be done, Johnston-Walsh urged caregivers to maintain contact through other means.

"We have the technology to be able to send a simple text or a phone call," he said. "They can Skype in or they can Zoom in through a video conferencing program. These are the things that we really need."

He said caregiving is a common family dynamic that will only expand with the spread of COVID-19.

Disclosure: AARP Pennsylvania contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Consumer Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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