By Lauren Snedeker, Assistant Professor of Teaching, Coordinator for the Aging and Health Certificate Program
Familial caregivers are the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic.According to AARP and the National Alliance on Caregiving (2020), one in five adults are currently providing unpaid care to an adult. Because of the risks associated with nursing home care, many are electing to keep their person home, perhaps longer than planned and despite the accumulation of new needs and new stress. The Rosalyn Carter Institute for Caregiving (2020) recently surveyed 400 caregivers in the US currently supporting a family member or friend and learned that over 80% are experiencing an increase in stress, a decrease in available respite (or relief) services, financial/resource insecurity, and an increase in isolation. While social workers in the fields of aging and health have consistently advocated for more attention, services, and policy change on behalf of family caregivers, the COVID-19 pandemic has further punctuated this critical need.
November is National Family Caregivers Month, first signed by President Clinton in 1997. This year’s theme, appropriately so, is Caregiving in Crisis. Please review the following resources and tips from organizations that focus on supporting caregivers across the country so you can take action today on behalf of family caregivers everywhere by building your awareness and enhancing your practice.
1. Recognize that caregiving duties can be broad.
Some duties can include direct care where an individual needs support with basic needs like hygiene. Other duties could be broader, like help with bills.
2. Realize how, regardless of what they are doing, family caregivers are doing more than we know.
Remember, family caregivers are taking on needs in addition to their own, and likely their own direct family members’, needs. Family caregivers are often balancing their person’s needs, their jobs, children, and other tasks that can lead them to feel overwhelmed.
3. Understand that family caregivers experience numerous changes.
Changes in their daily activities, changes in their roles with family members, and changes in their relationships with others can all stem from the caregiver role. A common shift for family caregivers supporting an older family member is the way roles can reverse. For example, an adult child caring for their parent now may identify more like the parent in the relationship and, as a result, may mourn the loss of this child role in addition to the independence of the person.
4. Family caregivers benefit from validation.
Caregiving can be challenging and sad, yet it can also be inspiring and joyful. Sometimes all of these experiences can happen in one day for a family caregiver, depending on the situation. Validate caregivers no matter how they are feeling so they can continue performing vital work for their person.