Caregiving In a Pandemic

May 8, 2020

We hear a lot in the news from our elected officials, even from our friends and neighbors, “we are all in the same boat.” While that may be true in a sense, I do not think it quite captures the array of experiences people in all walks of life have of this virus and the way it has affected our society. Take, for instance, caregivers of older and/or disabled adults. 

Some of you may be experiencing reduced contact with your loved one. Those in nursing facilities are not allowed visitors, and for good reason. Cluster outbreaks have occurred and, as we are all aware, not only are residents at these facilities at higher risk for severe and lethal complications from this virus, they are also contained within tight quarters, at higher risk for getting infected should just one person bring it in. But it’s not just those in facilities who have been affected. Even those who live independently may require less contact due to underlying health issues, and caregivers are having to choose between less contact with their loved one or less contact with their children and spouse.  

Some of you may be experiencing minimal contact with the outside world. You may be at high risk yourself, or you may be living with your loved one, and doing your best to minimize the chance of infecting them. You no longer go to the store and your visits with family, friends, and neighbors are limited. You may have even had to limit contact with a home healthcare provider or others who have helped care for your loved one, and now are taking on responsibility for more tasks with less time away to relax.

Some of your loved ones may have progressive memory problems, such as Alzheimer’s, and may not be able to grasp what is going on in the world, or may forget, or become fearful of the changes without knowing how to communicate that fear. They may not understand wearing masks to the store, and they may not be safe at home while you go without them. They will not wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. They want to do what they want to do right now, and do not understand why they cannot. When your loved one is in later stages of illness, leaving him or her in a facility for several weeks without contact may mean you come back to someone who no longer remembers you. You may grapple with the decision to move them home to avoid risking losing what little time you have left with them.

So yes, we are all going through a tremendous change in our lives; it is unwanted, unplanned, and in many ways, unpleasant. Depending on your situation, you may have more on your shoulders than the next person, which as a caregiver is true all the time. Not just these days. Many caregivers themselves are at risk for developing chronic illnesses due to the increased stress and demands that are placed on them when caring for an older or disabled adult. Providing caregivers with opportunities to connect and share their experiences, learn skills we do not often know we need, and even help others learn from our successes and mistakes, reduces the stress and increases confidence in their role.  Acknowledging both the great care and great sacrifices you make as a caregiver is important, too. We often do it out of love, not for attention or accolades, but they are certainly well earned, especially now.

Are you a caregiver? If you provide assistance with cooking, cleaning, transportation, making and keeping appointments, taking medications, shopping for groceries, balancing the checkbook and paying bills, mobility, bathing and hygiene, dressing, transferring to and from a wheelchair, or eating, you are a caregiver. 

If you are over the age of 60 or if your loved one is over the age of 60, you qualify for free support through the Older Americans Act, distributed through the Central Plains Area Agency on Aging (CPAAA). Prairie View is currently providing support groups via Zoom until regular meetings can return, and offer up to three consultations, all of which are free of charge to you.

Thank you for being such an important but underappreciated part of our community. For more information about our Caregiver program, please visit our website or call our admissions line at 800-992-6292 to get started.

Dr. Mandi Turner, T-LP, provides psychological testing and is a facilitator of Prairie View's East Wichita Caregiver Support Group. She also provides individual, group, couples and family treatment. Call 800-992-6292 to see how Dr. Turner can help you.