Social Distancing has been and still is necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19. This is especially true for at-risk groups including those living with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone with an intellectual disability, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy or brain disorders may be more susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19. That is particularly true if the Individual has another underlying health condition.
Many of the elements that are part of social distancing may be especially challenging for an IDD Individual:
- Disruption of normal routines and services can be as stressful as fear of contracting the illness.
- Isolation is more difficult for those who are dependent on others for help with daily tasks.
- Physical conditions may make it more difficult to practice frequent handwashing.
- Masks, gloves and extra cleaning may contribute to feelings of fear and anxiety.
- With limited shopping trips and availability of food and supplies, it may be difficult to have on hand the foods Individuals like and need.
- Appointments and services that are considered non-critical have typically been cancelled.
- Hands-on assistance may be required for Individuals to participate in educational or recreational activities that are now done online.
- Limited visits with family and friends may be difficult to explain and may lead to stress or depression.
Following are some tips for Host Home Providers (HHPs), family members, and friends of IDD Individuals that can help their loved ones more comfortably and safely manage the restrictions imposed by social distancing and safer-at-home practices.
Addressing the Situation
- Discuss social distancing and staying at home in a positive light – it’s something we have control over, something we can choose to do to help keep us safe and healthy.
- Be patient and understanding. The situation is confusing and exasperating to all of us, even without cognitive challenges. Imagine how difficult to grasp it may be for IDD Individuals.
- Continue to explain why events and activities have to be changed.
Physical and Mental Health
- HHPs should give extra attention to their own health and safety so they continue to be available to those in their care.
- Watch for signs of stress and anxiety and address them up front – don’t let them grow.
- Find ways to make sure handwashing and other hygiene practices are followed. Consider making a schedule or reinforce the practices with rewards.
- Get the Individual’s support team members on the same page by developing guidelines that will be used by the HHP, case managers, family, and friends to keep communications and messages consistent and positive and to reinforce healthy and protective practices.
- Maintain frequent and regular communications with the Individual’s family and friends, not only by phone but also via Facetime, Zoom, Google Meet and Houseparty to facilitate video interaction and a more personal experience.
- Encourage Individuals to write cards and letters to family members and friends.
Activities and Fun
- Find ways to help the community, such as putting together a box of food for a local food bank.
- Create new routines to replace those that have been disrupted. Incorporating elements to break up the day will be positive for both the HHP and Individuals. Include mental stimulation, physical activity, time outside, games, crafts, and perhaps some time for each person to do something of their choosing on their own.
- Use online programs and activities, especially those you can share with the Individual, to help keep them engaged. Check out some online opportunities offered by DDRC.
Spend Time Outdoors Safely
To deal with cabin fever, consider safe ways to enjoy the outdoors. Fresh air and sunshine (which provides Vitamin D) helps boost mental and physical health and immunity. Connecting with nature can both calm the spirit and boost creativity. Following are some activities you can do in your own backyard!
- Plant and tend a garden.
- Cook out and have a picnic.
- Camp out.
- Stargaze and learn constellations – plus watch for satellites.
- Take a tiny nature walk – identify birds and their songs, or butterflies and other insects.
- Build a bird house or bird feeder and learn about the birds that come to them.
- Create art projects using rocks, leaves and flowers you find, or draw some of these.
- Take your exercise sessions outside.
- Create a scavenger hunt or play other games.
- Relax and listen to calming music.
- Close your eyes and pay attention to what you feel, hear and smell then share what you sensed.
This situation won’t last forever and although it may be frustrating, make this time an adventure. It’s an opportunity to learn, to discover new (maybe even better) ways of doing things, to get to know ourselves more deeply, to connect with and appreciate nature and the blessings of each day, and to find creative ways to engage with our community. And never hesitate to ask for help! Or just reach out and share what you’re experiencing. We, and our many resources, are always here for you.