Guest Columnist

Pandemic puts added stress on family caregivers

Kathy Good of Cedar Rapids holds a photo of herself with her late husband, David, who had Alzheimer's, in Cedar Rapids o
Kathy Good of Cedar Rapids holds a photo of herself with her late husband, David, who had Alzheimer's, in Cedar Rapids on Monday, June 15, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

It is the daily reality for family caregivers to feel alone, overwhelmed, worried and anxious as they care for a loved one with dementia or other chronic conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused all of us to feel this way. For most people though, those feelings will dissipate when the COVID-19 crisis is over and life begins to return to normal. Family caregivers, however, will continue to struggle with the responsibilities and stress that long-term caregiving brings, which may only be intensified in the wake of the global crisis.

For caregivers, enhancing quality of life for their loved one is often a central focus. With that goal in mind, their daily tasks may entail medication management, laundry, meal preparation, housekeeping, bathing, toileting, eating, dressing and teeth brushing — not to mention the caregiver’s desire to keep their loved one appropriately entertained. On a good day, this list of responsibilities is no small task. A good day means the caregiver feels full of energy and the person living with dementia is functioning well. Add the fear and uncertainty of COVID-19 to the equation, and it can have the compounding effect of draining energy and limiting function.

As you know, COVID-19 has interrupted routines for all of us and has also made it more difficult to stay calm. Along the same lines, people living with dementia do best when there is a routine that focuses on meeting their needs, and when their caregiver remains calm. For eight years, I cared for my husband, Dave, at home. He had dementia. We had a routine and I tried to stay calm. Some days, I didn’t do so well at that. There were mornings when I felt I had run a marathon by the time I got us both showered, dressed and fed, and Dave had taken his medication. Fortunately, there was no COVID-19 then to add another layer to our already stressful situation. But, nowadays, it may be nearly impossible for caregivers who struggled before COVID-19 to maintain routines and stay calm in the process.

Additionally, long-term caregivers — especially spousal caregivers — already live with a sense of isolation. In our culture, we live in a couple’s world. When the person living with dementia can no longer function well in social situations, couple friends often disappear. Similarly, COVID-19 increases the isolation many caregivers already feel.

During ordinary times, some caregivers are fortunate enough to get breaks from their caregiving. But, COVID-19 has stopped this from happening as day centers are closed, agencies that employ home care workers are suspending service, and friends and family are fearful to spread COVID-19 by showing up.

Right now, any caregiver you know may be struggling with any or all of the aforementioned realities. So, consider extending a small act of kindness at this difficult time. Make a phone call, drop a note in the mail, or deliver a casserole or a treat to their doorstep. A small act of kindness may be just the thing that gets them through the day. More than the physical act itself, it’s the connection that can reduce isolation and lessen stress.

Furthermore, the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy has trained staff and volunteers (most whom are or have been caregivers) available to talk by phone with any caregiver who is feeling alone, overwhelmed or anxious. Sometimes, just having the opportunity to talk with someone who understands can restore a lost perspective. As we’ve heard often these past few weeks, together we will get through this.

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If you’d like to find out more about the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy, visit www.familycaregiverscenter.org.

Kathy Good volunteers her time as executive director of the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy.

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