Caregivers Are Still Staying In As Society Reopens
Jill Carey, a 37-year-old mother of two children, lives with her parents, Walt and Mary Lou Carey, in Upper Darby, Penn. Carey said her greatest fear is either she or her 10-year-old son or 6-year-old daughter will expose her parents, who are in their 70s, to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Carey said she has not been back to a restaurant, and seldom goes into stores or visit friends. Her anxiety level increased when deciding whether to send her children back to school. Fortunately, the school district started remote learning at the beginning of the school year.
Carey is not alone in restricting her activities for fear of placing her parents at risk for COVID-19. Although businesses and schools have reopened and people are trying to get back to some sense of normalcy, others are not in a hurry to pick up where they left off prior to the coronavirus outbreak.
The COVID-19 pandemic upended many lives, especially older adults and their caregivers. While some family caregivers live with their senior relatives, other caregivers were faced with following state-mandated orders to stay home, which left seniors without anyone to care for them. Caregivers who went to their clients’ homes, or family caregivers who came over to their loved one’s homes worried about the possibility of exposing seniors to the coronavirus.
Caregivers already have plenty of daily challenges, but the COVID-19 pandemic has added more pressure to their jobs. So, rather than take chances of exposing loved ones or clients to the coronavirus, some caregivers are choosing to limit their social activities and staying pretty much in social isolation.
Social Interaction Heightens COVID-19 Risks
Now that businesses have reopened and stay-at-home orders have lifted, there are more opportunities for social interaction. And, interacting with others is good for our mental health, said Kristin Shelesky, a clinical psychologist and owner of The Associates for Well-Being in Philadelphia, Penn.
At the same time, there are also more opportunities for COVID-19 exposure, especially for caregivers who live with or provide care to those more vulnerable to the disease, Shelesky said.
The risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, with the greatest risk among people over 85 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People with an existing chronic health condition or a compromised immune system are also vulnerable to COVID-19.
Caregivers would blame themselves if they unintentionally exposed the older adults they care for to the coronavirus. This also holds true for older adults who are caring for their grandchildren, like Barbara Johnson, a 71-year-old Oklahoma City, Okla., resident.
Johnson, who has a rare blood disorder and Type 2 diabetes, said she has seldom left home in the past three months. She is raising her 17-year-old granddaughter and twin 18-year-old grandsons. Since complete social isolation isn’t possible for her, Johnson said her grandchildren worry about her health since she’s a high risk for complications from COVID-19.
Grandparents raising grandchildren are in a unique role since staying at a social distance for safety’s sake is impossible, said Amy Goyer, AARP’s national family, and caregiving expert. While grandparents have an opportunity to see their grandchildren, grandparents worry about the potential of becoming infected with COVID-19 and what would happen to their grandchildren if they got sick, Goyer said.
What Caregivers Should and Should Not Avoid
As the coronavirus continues to plague the nation, health experts and psychologists advise caregivers to take care of themselves first, which will lower the risk of exposing older adults and others with weak immune systems to COVID-19.
So, how should caregivers care for themselves? According to the CDC and mental health experts, caregivers should:
- Focus on what they can control and what they cannot. This will help to reduce stress and anxiety
- Avoid gatherings of large crowds, which is one of the primary ways the coronavirus spreads through communities.
- Wear a face covering when in public places or when providing direct care. The CDC advises wearing face coverings, particularly when in close contact with older adults since people can be infected with COVID-19 without showing any symptoms or feeling ill.
- Keep their hands clean. The CDC continues to stress the importance of vigorous handwashing with soap and water, with hand sanitizer as a backup when soap and water are not available.
- Stay away from any potentially infected individuals.
Caregivers may not want to attend in-person events, such as weddings, family gatherings, or community events. However, caregivers should not avoid others but stay socially engaged, whether it’s via a phone call or an online virtual visit, said Barry J. Jacobs, a psychologist and expert on family caregiving in Swarthmore, Penn. He also suggests meditation, journaling, and self-reflection.
Most of all, Jacobs said, caregivers should be kind to themselves and don’t hold themselves to the same standard as nine months ago when the virus outbreak first began.
Fear of exposing older adults to the virus or a fear of getting sick and not being able to provide care stops caregivers from connecting with others, Shelesky said. Passing up the chance to see other people makes social isolation even worse for caregivers, Shelesky noted, and social isolation is not good for them.