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Positively 50+: Caring for the caregivers as doctors fear a 'twindemic'

By Heather Simonsen, KSL TV | Posted - Oct. 23, 2020 at 12:16 p.m.



CEDAR HILLS – Fearing a "twindemic," doctors urge everyone, especially older adults, to get a flu shot. That's just as important for caregivers, whose health often gets forgotten.

A "twindemic" is the surge in COVID-19 cases combining with a severe flu season.

Here's how to stay healthy. When Rex Lee's phone rings, you know by his ringtone who he's rooting for.

"That's the BYU fight song," said Lee, who lives in Cedar Hills. He watches every game. "If I could get into the TV, I'd probably be right in it."

At age 89, he relies on his daughter, Traci Lee, his primary caregiver.

"I think you just go into hyper-drive, and you just start doing and doing and you find you can do more and more," said Traci Lee, who lives with her father.

Rex and Traci are taking precautions to stay healthy and that's extra important this year because doctors say it's possible to get COVID-19 and the flu at once.

It would be devastating on an older person's immune system, which isn't as strong.

"We recommend that they receive what's called the high-dose flu shot. That allows the older adult's immune system to produce a more vigorous response," said Dr. Timothy Farrell, geriatrician and associate professor of Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

About 70% of older adults get the flu shot each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Anyone 65 or older is at greater risk, especially if they have chronic conditions. Experts say caregivers of any age should consider themselves high risk as well.

"The same rules apply to them as they would want to apply to their loved one. First and foremost, that would include taking care of themselves," said Nancy Madsen, of the Utah Division of Aging and Adult Services, who is also the Utah Caregiver Support Program manager. "If you go down, they go down."

Sometimes it's easy for Traci to forget about her own health. This year, she's playing it safe, and she sees the upside to caring for her dad.

"Just being able to spend time with him, that throughout my life I haven't spent," Traci said. "You're a teenager and you don't realize the value of that."

Rex added, "There's not enough adjectives to tell you how blessed I am to have her. She's just a blessing in my life." Taking much-needed precautions to protect the most vulnerable, and the ones who care for them.

Experts also recommend caregivers have a backup plan- someone who can step in if they get sick.

There are many helpful resources for caregivers. For more information about safety precautions during the pandemic, visit the official COVID-19 website for the State of Utah.

For details about how caregivers are considered at high risk for COVID-19 and flu because of their contact with care receivers, call the High Risk Hotline: 1-877-424-4640 or you can once again, visit coronavirus.utah.gov.

To connect with local agencies about meals, in-home services, respite care, long term care, or Medicare counseling, call the Utah Division of Aging & Adult Services: 801-538-3910 or visit https://eldercare.acl.gov/.

Heather Simonsen

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