Cheryl Atwood, executive director, OPTIONS for Independence
People with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many fear if they get the virus they won’t survive it. This is not an unfounded fear, as their immune systems may not be able to respond effectively to fight off the illness. This fear may increase the feeling of isolation, which can impact physical and mental health. Approximately one in four adults in the U.S. has a disability and an estimated 60% of Americans have at least one chronic health condition that could make the symptoms of COVID-19 more severe or deadly.
People with disabilities may rely on family and friends to help them with everyday needs. They not only need to protect themselves from the virus by limiting visitors and outings, but they also need to protect care providers if they were to contract the virus.
There is a direct correlation between loneliness and serious health risks, such as heart disease, weakened immune systems, and stroke. It is critical that people with disabilities maintain connections to the outside world to help offset these feelings.
People with intellectual disabilities may have an extremely difficult time dealing with increased isolation. Before the pandemic, 45% of people with intellectual disabilities reported feeling lonely. The increased pressure from living in quarantine can cause mood swings, mental health issues, and increased anxiety. The pandemic lockdown can mean sudden deprivation of specialized services and supports that keep individuals connected to the community and others.
Another area of concern is for individuals with autism who typically thrive on structure and routine. When that routine is interrupted it can cause a lot of challenges and stress on the individual and their family or support system. Using social stories is one way to help a person on the autism spectrum better understand the need for increased hand washing, social distancing, and new routines. A support group for those supporting individuals on the spectrum is available at OPTIONS for Independence. It is currently being held via Zoom, or you can join the Cache Valley Autism Support Group on Facebook.
What can be done to feel safe and connected during the pandemic?
- Reach out virtually. The use of technology is one way to stay connected with others. Access to technology may be an issue for various reasons. Assistance in learning how to use a device, reliable internet access, or funding to purchase technology may be needed. See box at right for ways OPTIONS for Independence may be able to help.
- Take care of your health. Keep a regular routine, even when stuck at home. Eat healthy meals and get some form of exercise every day. It is OK to go outside. Use proper precautions like wearing a face covering when social distancing is not possible. Wash your hands often and stay home when sick.
- Reach out for help. It is so important to reach out for help when we are overwhelmed, whatever the reason. Find someone to talk to.
OPTIONS for Independence is a disability service provider in Cache, Box Elder, and Rich Counties in Northern Utah. OPTIONS’ mission is to provide services and supports to individuals with all types of disabilities and of all ages to assist them to live as independently as possible. OPTIONS received CARES Act funding to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the surge of needs individuals with disabilities may encounter when trying to access or reconnect with the services and supports they need to remain safe in their communities.
CARES Act supplemental funding has some specific areas of focus:
- Technology to enable and support the provision of services.
- Supplies and services that advance the safety and health of individuals.
- Services and activities that assist individuals with disabilities who are at risk of being institutionalized to remain in their communities OR for individuals in institutional settings to move to community-based settings.
OPTIONS has several programs for specific disability groups that may help during the pandemic. Groups include: Youth Zoom meetings, programs for older adults with vision loss, nursing home diversion, and transition and regular community activities. A therapist is available on a limited basis for those in crisis.
Please contact OPTIONS with questions or to request services at 435-753-5353, 106 East 1120 North, Logan, UT, www.optionsind.org.