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COVID-19 Blog #11

Winter is Coming: My COVID-19 10-point Winter Tune-up Checklist

By Yona Lunsky & Nicole Bobbette

Many of us are in panic mode right now; alarmed by rising COVID-19 cases, frustrated by ongoing and, in many places, increasing restrictions, and fatigued by the complexity of managing life in 2020.

Our inclination may be to focus on the crisis-of-the-day and put off less pressing matters until later.  But as we all know, an ounce of prevention can help avert a disaster down the road. With winter coming, we need to plan for and adapt to our new conditions. It’s like preparing for safe winter driving - getting a tune-up, checking the brakes, and putting on our snow tires can make the world of difference when that first snowstorm hits.

When it comes to the health and well-being of people with developmental disabilities, there are things we can do right now to help get through the second wave of this pandemic. This winter tune-up checklist offers ten proactive health tips to help people with developmental disabilities be safe and well this winter. You can start by thinking about this list yourself but it is also a good idea to review this list together with a health care provider.

My COVID-19 Winter Tune-Up Checklist

  1. My Plan - Make an emergency plan! Emergency visits are more common for people with developmental disabilities. With pandemic restrictions in place, it is not always possible for an essential support person to enter the hospital. An emergency plan will help answer important questions: How are health care decisions made and who supports decision-making? We also need to have communication tools ready, such as the COVID-19 Advance Care Planning tool and the Hospital Transfer Form, along with other resources to take to hospital.
  2. My Mask – These days we are all required to wear masks unless unable to do so for medical reasons. We all need to understand why masks are important and support those who are unable to wear one.  There are a number of resources available to build capacity and facilitate mask wearing. Masks are one of a few ways we can work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep others and ourselves safe. A conversation with the doctor about staying safe at this time is very important.
  3. My Meaning – What we do each and everyday matters. Having something meaningful to do gives us purpose and contributes to our sense of well-being; it may be tidying our room, doing an activity we love, or helping someone else. What can we do to build opportunities for meaningful activity and connection? Remember that it has to be meaningful to the person for it to be of benefit. Check out the Do-Live-Well framework for more information on meaningful activity and the connection to our health and well-being.
  4. My Movement – With the weather turning colder and pandemic-related restrictions in place, we can expect many of us to stay indoors during winter. One of the risks of being indoors more is that we move less and can become increasingly sedentary. Movement is important for not only exercise and maintaining our physical health, but also for our mental health. Getting dressed and going outside, enjoying fresh air, and watching the world go by is something we all could do before the pandemic. This should not stop because of COVID-19. Remember that spending time outdoors during winter is more enjoyable when we dress the part with a warm coat, winter boots, hats, gloves, and scarves (and even long underwear for those very cold days!). It is not too early to make sure everything fits and is ready to go.
  5. My Money – Winter can be expensive, with extra costs related to heating our homes, buying winter clothing and getting groceries delivered if going out is too difficult. It is important to know if there is enough money for all these basics, as well as having extra money to do something fun. Not everyone can pay for things with a credit card or bankcard so planning is also about figuring out how to pay for things and where to get financial help if you need it.
  6. My Mood– A good health check with a doctor includes looking at how well people are handling their stress and anxiety. It is to be expected that people will feel scared about getting sick and sad about not being able to see people they love or do their favourite activities. Sometimes these feelings can be so overwhelming that just getting out of bed and getting dressed is a challenge. If someone is not acting like themselves, it may be a good time to check in on them and address any issues. These self-help booklets can be helpful to deal with difficult emotions.
  7. My Medications – It is important to monitor how medications are working, especially when you take more than one medication at the same time. This is because medications can have side effects, which can be missed when it is hard to describe or recognize them. Since COVID-19 began, people have been getting medications renewed by phone instead of seeing a doctor in person; sometimes new medications are started without seeing the doctor either. Though health care visits may look different during the pandemic it is important to check in with a doctor on how well daily medications are working. It is also important to have a list of medications to share when seeing any health care provider, to refill your prescriptions before running out, and asking your pharmacy to deliver medicines to your home if you cannot pick them up.
  8. My Physical Health – Even though our medical appointments may look different these days, it is still important to pay attention to our physical health, including getting a flu shot, checking our eyes, ears, skin and teeth, monitoring our weight and sleep patterns, and paying attention to discomforts related to bowel movements or urination. It is also important to make sure everyone understands what COVID-19 is and how to avoid becoming infected. It is good to review what happens if you need to be tested for COVID-19 and have to isolate if positive.
  9. My family and friends – There are many difficult choices right now in terms of connecting with our family and friends. Some areas are in lockdown and others might move into that stage soon. Outdoor visits are harder in the cold and with fewer hours of daylight. This can be especially hard with holidays approaching. It is important to evaluate how to best stay connected with loved ones; it may be necessary to connect face-to-face when virtual meetings are not an option.  How to navigate this safely is specific to the person so it may be helpful to speak with a doctor.
  10. My access to technology – Whether it is for seeing health care providers, taking a class, connecting with friends and family, or just entertainment, so many of our activities are now online and require not only the right equipment but also the skills. What can be done to facilitate online connections? Check out this blog for some ideas.

Winter is coming! This 10-point COVID-19 winter tune-up checklist will help you stay healthy and be better prepared for whatever happens this winter. Bring this checklist to health care appointments, talk to the doctor, and plan how you will deal with these topics in the coming months.