Caregiving in the Age of COVID-19
There’s no doubt about it, the coronavirus disease has pushed people into the unexpected role of caregiver and made it harder for existing caregivers to do their job. For instance:
- People who once only waved at their elderly neighbor who lives alone are now making sure that their neighbor has food and water and stays connected with long-distance family members.
- Adult children raising children of their own are now performing more caregiving duties from a distance as they monitor the health, finances, and other activities of their aging parents who live on their own.
- An elderly wife who has been taking care of her chronically ill husband worries about what would happen if she gets sick.
- Caregivers who provided regular assistance to seniors living independently are taking extra precautions to ensure that they do not inadvertently expose their loved one or client to the coronavirus.
Normal support systems for older adults have buckled and family members and friends are trying to make the wisest decisions under uncertain conditions when there are no clear-cut answers, said Barry J. Jacobs, a clinical psychologist, and family therapist in Swarthmore, Penn.
The crisis brought on by COVID-19 has put additional stress on caregivers, Jacobs said. So, whenever necessary, caregivers should ask for help from family and friends in getting food, medicines, and other necessities for older adults.
COVID-19 Disruptions Affecting Mental Health of Caregivers
Caregiving is difficult enough to manage each day, but disruptions caused by COVID-19, such as schools switching to online learning and employees working from home, have increased the difficulties. The disruptions to normal routines have complicated caregiving responsibilities, particularly for adults who care for their aging parents.
The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) noted that 28 percent of caregivers “sandwiched” between caring for an older adult while raising children, millions of Americans are trying to stay healthy while balancing the demands of work and family.
A study published in August in the journal Child Psychiatry & Human Development examined the stress placed on parents caring for children during the pandemic. Researchers identified COVID-19-related stressors that included fears of infection, disruptions of work, school, and daily self-care routines, and a lack of access to reliable information and resources.
According to the study, parents who had more caregiving responsibilities reported a higher rate of generalized anxiety and depression and a perception that their children were under greater stress because of the challenges.
The American Psychological Association recommends parents talk with their children about difficult topics, like COVID-19. For starters, parents should first rehearse what they want to say and when it’s time to talk:
- Find a quiet moment where children are the center of attention.
- Find out what children know by asking them what they have heard about the topic being discussed, and then listen to what they have to say.
- Share your feelings about the topic. It’s okay if children see their parents express their emotions, but they should also see how parents can pull themselves together and move on.
Most importantly, parents should tell the truth at a level their children will understand, but spare them graphic details.
Tips For Women Caregivers
While men had to shoulder more caregiving responsibilities because of the pandemic, women remain the primary caregivers. Since the pandemic began, some women have taken on additional responsibilities of caring, even at a distance, for their elderly neighbors or close friends.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2 out of every 3 caregivers are women who provide daily or regular support to children, adults or people with chronic illnesses or disabilities.
As a result, women caregivers have a greater risk for poor physical and mental health, including depression and anxiety, the CDC says. And, the risks increase with the added stressors from COVID-19.
The CDC offers ways women can protect themselves:
- Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate
- Eat foods that are safe and healthy
- Drink lots of water to stay hydrated
- Exercise regularly
- Get plenty of sleep
- Avoid excessive alcohol and substance abuse
- Take breaks from watching, listening or reading news stories or social media postings about
- Make time to unwind. Take a walk or do an activity you enjoy.
What’s most important is connecting with people you trust and talking with them about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Caregivers Adapting to COVID-19-Related Changes
Caregivers are learning to adapt to the COVID-19-related changes and are finding convenient ways to help their loved ones or clients. To make it easier for caregivers, the NAC suggests:
- Using telehealth options to connect your loved one or clients with their healthcare providers
- Using mail order to fill prescriptions or deliver medical supplies
- Arranging for grocery or pharmacy delivery
- Connecting with online or telephone caregiver support groups
- Creating closed groups on social media to stay in contact with other caregivers or members of a support team
NAC also reminds non-caregivers to stay in contact with the caregivers they know and ask if they are okay or need help. In a way, this means checking on each other since COVID-19, in some respects, has made nearly everyone a caregiver in some way.