Caregiving During The Pandemic
Peggy Nixa wanted to do something different after retiring from AAA, where she had worked for 30 years. One day, Nixa was reading an article about caregiving and became interested in entering the field.
Nixa, however, was concerned that her lack of medical training would stop her from becoming a caregiver. After making inquiries, a recruiter reassured her that she would get training and the support she needed to do the job. So, Nixa moved forward to pursue her desire of helping seniors.
“I’m helping them stay home instead of going to a care facility because the majority of them do not want to leave their homes,” said Nixa, who has been working as a caregiver for the past four years.
While caregiving has always played an important role in the lives of older adults and their family members, the need for caregivers and healthcare workers has skyrocketed over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the early stages of the pandemic, caregivers and healthcare workers backed off from visiting older adults on a weekly or daily basis to avoid potentially exposing seniors to the coronavirus disease. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities banned family members and non-essential workers, including personal caregivers, from visiting.
But, seniors who lived in their own homes and had live-in caregivers had support with their daily living activities, household duties, meal preparation, and companionship during the outbreak.
As the pandemic raged on, the need for COVID-19-related jobs increased. For instance, Glassdoor, an employment services website, saw job postings triple, from 100 to 300 between February 29, 2020, through March 6, 2020. The postings were mostly for community response, crisis management, healthcare, and cleaning (for scrubbing down surfaces in public places to prevent the virus from spreading).
At the same time, ZipRecruiter, another online jobs marketplace, saw a drop in the number of job openings for retail workers, restaurant staff, and hotel employees as people stayed home during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, calls were coming into home care agencies from adult children who did not live nearby and wanted to ensure that their elderly parents had the help they needed. In fact, in-home caregiving jobs were in demand even before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
A report by PHI, a New York-based direct care workforce advocacy organization, found that the in-home care industry will need to fill an estimated 4.7 million home-care jobs by 2028. What’s more, PHI’s report estimated that over 1 million new jobs will be created in-home care by 2028, which would increase the current home care workforce by 46 percent.
Grief Support For Caregivers of People Living With Dementia
The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have also been difficult for those caring for people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. What’s more, family caregivers have suffered the loss of their loved ones during this time.
In support of caregivers whose loved ones were in hospice care, two researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine developed “Caregiver Speaks,” a unique photo-based project for caregivers.
Because of the long-term nature of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, caregivers joined the study when their loved one started hospice care and continued six months after their loved one’s death. Caregivers are invited into a private Facebook group and are asked to take photos of and share stories about their loved ones.
The technique, called “photo-elicitation,” has caregivers focus their photos and discussions on their meaning as caregivers and how this has changed over time, according to Dr. Abigail Rolbiecki, an assistant professor of family and community medicine, and one of the researchers who conducted the study.
Discussing their experiences helps caregivers reduce their depression, anxiety, and grief, Rolbiecki said. “My hope is that individuals will be able to look at their circumstances and find meaning,” Rolbiecki said in a statement about the program. “Even if there is no silver lining, they can understand the role it had in their life and grow and heal. My vision is that one day hospices will deliver this intervention and they will change lives.”
Women Take On More Caregiving Duties During The Pandemic
While there may be a demand in caregiving jobs, women took on the lion’s share of caring for their aging loved ones during the pandemic while working a full-time job and caring for their own families. Being a caregiver, worker, parent or grandparent raising children is already intense, but the COVID-19 pandemic added more pressure on women.
Amanda Singleton, an attorney, and an AARP family caregiving expert has sage advice—from the first-hand experience—for women who still find themselves in this predicament:
- If you are employed, find out whether your workplace offers accommodations, such as respite care hours, flexible hours, or a care coordination service within your company’s employee assistance program. Take advantage of the options available to workers.
- Talk to your supervisor or manager about the challenges you are facing and document your conversations. Also, be clear about what would help you perform better at work and at home.
- Contact your local Area Agency on Aging, Senior Services, Caregiver Advocacy programs, and similar organizations that provide resources.
- If you are considering leaving your job in favor of caregiving duties, consider the “plus side” of remaining employed, which means contributing to your own retirement, maintaining your employer-provided health care, life, and disability insurance for you, your spouse, and children.
Women who have been laid off or furloughed may want to look for a job that allow employees to work from home or has flexible hours. Singleton also suggests looking into programs that actually pay family members to care for their loved one.
Meanwhile, as some states are seeing another COVID-19 surge, older adults continue to get help from those involved in caregiving, which Nixa calls the “most gratifying job.” Nixa said she knows she is making a difference in people’s lives because they tell her how much they appreciate her help.
“They are all smiles,” Nixa said. “They are so grateful. They can’t thank you enough.”