On March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, life for many individuals and families all across America changed dramatically. New health protocols calling for sheltering in place and social distancing forced entire communities to essentially shut down. Schools began to implement distance learning, businesses altered their hours of operation or closed their doors entirely, and people were encouraged to simply stay at home. By the fall, when the second wave of the pandemic forced additional closures and social restrictions, health organizations worldwide began to identify the onset of a second epidemic. Social isolation, meant to protect the health and well-being of those most at risk of infection, seem to be causing a crisis of mental health. Depression and anxiety have become very real consequences of the precautions meant to stem the spread of COVID-19. And while controlling the spread of a deadly, new infectious disease is understandably top priority among health organizations, it is important that we also identify and respond to the health risks that come as a result of taking such drastic social precautions.
Caregivers may be especially at risk. Even without the added protocols implemented in response to the pandemic, individuals who provide care for an ill or aging loved one are likely to experience feelings of loneliness. Caregiving responsibilities are often more than a full-time job, and it is not uncommon for providers to become so preoccupied with caregiving duties that they neglect to address issues of self-care. When this tendency is compounded by quarantine or social distancing, the result can be an overwhelming feeling of isolation. It is important, then, for caregivers to be made aware of resources that can give them appropriate tools to manage these difficult emotions.
Respite services are one resource that can allow caregivers the opportunity to step away from their caregiving duties and focus on other things. Most communities have one or more organizations that provide vouchers so that a caregiver can hire someone to care for their loved one while they take some time for themselves. While it may be a bit harder now to find appropriate ways to spend that time away in light of the pandemic, sometimes something as simple as a walk around the block or a drive in the country can be enough to regroup and recharge. And while it may be a tougher to find a safe and willing respite care provider, if you have the vouchers on hand it may be easier to ask for the help you need, knowing you have a resource available to compensate a friend or family member for their time.
Of course, stepping away from the workload only solves half the problem. Ideally, real-life solutions also include identifying a way to interact with others for support and encouragement. For the time being, at least, support groups and other similar activities have been postponed until it is once again safe to gather. In other words, until we have all been vaccinated, gatherings of more than a couple of people are ill-advised. On the other hand, many organizations are using technology in new, innovative ways to make it possible for people to reach out to one another for support. Zoom support group meetings, Facebook Live and Facetime video chats are just a few of the tools that can allow caregivers to reach out and connect with people in similar circumstances. Sometimes, the simple act of reaching out and sharing a moment or offering a word of kindness can be enough to establish a connection and make a weary soul feel a little less alone. I know one family who uses the smartphone app Marco Polo to keep in touch. Every day, family members record a short video for all the others to watch when they have the time. It works well because even though everyone has very different schedules, they are all able to make that little connection. When the one sister (who is acting as caregiver to their mother with dementia) is up in the wee hours of the morning dealing with mom, who often doesn’t sleep through the night, she can listen to the day’s Polo messages and record one of her own. She feels connected, and a bit less alone.
The bottom line, of course, is that every caregiver needs to have access to a variety of resources that keep them connected to their friends and family and to provide them with the encouragement and support that they need. That may not look the same for everyone, but no caregiver should be left adrift in a sea of precautionary measures with no lifeline to keep them tethered to the rest of the world.
If you or someone you know needs respite services or caregiver support, LTCA of Enid Area Agency on Aging has services available to help. Funds are currently available for respite, and applying for vouchers is easy. LTCA also has monthly virtual Caregiver Support Group meetings scheduled for any caregiver who is interested in reaching out for information, resources and encouragement. Call 580-234-7475 for more information on how to get help today.
Caregiving, like any job requires the right tools to do the work efficiently and effectively. By reaching out for help, caregivers gain access to meaningful resources and tools that can make the burden lighter and the journey less overwhelming. Do not try to do it alone. Help is only a phone call away.