Caregiving During Difficult Times
by Donna L Scrafano
Although my caregiving duties ended with my father’s death prior to the 2020 pandemic, I continued to facilitate a caregiver support group at the YWCA in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where my father once attended an adult program. During the pandemic, I’m continuing to facilitate the group via phone, Facetime, and my new-found challenge, Zoom. I am also having one-on-one phone sessions with other people—clients, friends, and a relative providing care in my efforts to help others.
Some of the stories that caregivers told me are much like before, only with more intensity. The loss of freedom and the isolation that the caregivers already felt became insurmountably frustrating and, as one described, emotionally painful in that there was a level of loneliness and boredom that no one had ever experienced before. Another issue is that family members have needed to step in as 24/7 caregivers, whereas before they could rely on outside assistance. Today, finding caregiver help is virtually impossible. As we all know, minor changes can upset an elderly person’s stability. Difficult times such as a pandemic can be so very confusing, even traumatizing, to the aged population.
While assisting caregivers during normal times, I would refer them to support networks such as their local Area Agency on Aging, adult day programs, home/health aide programs, etc. I’d also recommend recruiting private support people and explore forming one’s own support team (aka “cavalry”) when expected family members didn’t rise to the occasion. The current demands of protecting ourselves and our loved ones or finding adequate help however, do not permit us to bring in new troops.
Indeed, there has been a loss of outside assistance. Recently, there have been limited outside resources to refer anyone to. I could still refer to the Area Agency on Aging, but their assistance is limited. They and other agencies can provide over-the-phone and some virtual assistance. Receiving newly applied-for assistance from other agencies is scarce, since many are forced to work with a what one person described as a “skeleton crew.” If you already have an in-home health-care provider, that service may continue, unless of course the agency staff are too afraid to work or the primary caregiver is too afraid to allow outsiders in their home. One woman told me that she cancelled three of her four in-home health aides. Another reported that her current aide was diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus while still performing services. Scary times.
Then there are individuals and families who have a loved one in a skilled nursing or assisted living facility. They, too, were experiencing additional anxieties and concerns. Visitations were limited if not ceased altoghter and many of those in such facilities were unable to operate a phone to call their family. Even if the caregiver or family member were not providing their loved ones with 24/7 care, they had the ability to check in on a daily basis to make sure their loved one’s needs were being met. Just because a caregiver doesn’t have their loved one in their home does not mean that they are not participating in the care for that loved one. I know this from personal experience.
So, what does one do to survive other such difficult situations that may arise when caregiving our loved ones? Some strategies my support group has discussed are call a friend, adult child, or support person when feeling lonely or bored, and use Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, or any other technology to connect or to see a different yet familiar face. Some say that they are doing jigsaw puzzles, using adult coloring books, doing crossword puzzles, reading books, and knitting. One person even bought a puppy. Some caregivers are watching more TV and movies and taking advantage of the sheltering-in time to de-clutter, organize, and get things ready to donate when that is allowed. Exercising is another way of relieving stress, as we well know, and it does not need to be strenuous. If you cannot take a walk outside, there are indoor walking programs you can pull up on YouTube for all levels. Providing there is in-home support already in place or if your recipient is able to be alone for some time, taking a ride in the car, sitting near a body of water—i.e., a river, a lake, the ocean—helps as well. Taking your care recipient out for a ride is also a way for both of you to ease the stress.
And lastly, be thankful for the little things.
Photo credit by: Isabela Kronemberger (Brasil) @kronemberger.fotografia
Donna began her journey in Human Services in 1983. During the next 35 years she held various positions and formally retired in 2018. She writes on an array of social issues. Donna's relaxation time includes walking her Lab, Roxy, having fun with her seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, writing for Silver Sage, spending time with friends and family. Her last full-time position was providing care to her father. Since that has ended, Donna is taking the time to invest in her own self care and interests.