More Caregivers are Experiencing Increased Burnout During Coronavirus Pandemic

Q. I have been the primary caregiver for my father with dementia for three years now. It was stressful before, but now even more so because of the pandemic.

My new emotions deal with fear and anxiety over the virus and guilt about going out with friends or going shopping for fear of bringing home the virus and getting him sick. So for the most part, I stay home with my father, and we’ve both experienced isolation for all these months. The isolation on top of the extra caregiving responsibilities has led to extreme fatigue, and even anger and resentment, and I don’t want to be that way.

I love my father dearly and would like him at home for as long as possible. What are some coping tips to make things easier and to protect my mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic? Thanks for your help!

A. According to a recent agingcare.com article, 30% of caregivers die before those they are caring for. Some studies show the percentage of deaths to be even higher. And, most of these deaths are not due to a specific illness, but are often lumped into a category called “caregiver burnout,” a type of extreme stress common to many caregivers even under normal “non-pandemic” conditions. Caregivers often don’t find time to go to their own doctor appointments, and often don’t take good care of themselves — a problem made worse by the pandemic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals throughout the country continue to care for their loved ones. Whether they are caring for someone who has the virus or a different illness, this unprecedented time can lead to caregivers feeling added stress and pressure.

While we are all doing our part to stay home, caregivers of aging loved ones are experiencing a dramatic increase in their caregiving duties as well as having to deal with new and unprecedented challenges in their routines. In these turbulent times, many family caregivers are transitioning to providing full-time care for their aging parents while juggling care of themselves and full-time their children who are schooling at home due to so many school systems not re-opening. In the face of so much uncertainty, many caregivers feel exhausted, hopeless, isolated, and overwhelmed – not a good combination. Caregivers experiencing an excessive amount of any of these symptoms or emotions may be at risk for caregiver burnout.

Self-care is essential for caregivers, especially during this time.

Caregivers should not minimize or neglect their own health and emotional needs. Thankfully, there are a variety of things caregivers can do to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Be aware of your thoughts and feelings: Even if you feel like you don’t have time to do anything, be aware of your thoughts and your feelings. Honor those and know that those are real and true.
Talk to others about your feelings: While this may be tough at first, being open and honest with loved ones helps make sure everyone is on the same page and coming from a place of understanding.
Ask for help: Help these days may look different from before. But even if someone can do something from afar, that can certainly help. You may also want to look into getting some help, either from a home health aide or respite care.
Take care of your mind and body: Taking some time for yourself is OK. Focusing on things such as eating well, hydrating, and getting enough sleep can all have a positive impact on your well-being.
Try to get some exercise into your day— even stretching while watching TV is better than nothing.
Take breaks: Taking regular breaks can help, too. Even a short walk or enjoying some personal time alone can be enough to recharge your batteries.

Calming Your Loved Ones at this Time

While doing things to help yourself, you can also make this time easier for your loved ones. Here are some ways that caregivers can help calm their loved ones and reduce their anxiety:

– Verbally acknowledge the changes in your daily routine.
– Create a new daily schedule and stick to the new routine as best you can.
– Set times for meals and try to enjoy healthy meals together.
– When you speak with your family member, try to not only talk about the isolation. Make a list of other life updates to reference for conversation.
– Incorporate music into your daily activities. Music can be incredibly soothing for your person in times of added distress.

Are You Experiencing Extreme Stress as a caregiver?

If you’re a caregiver for an aging adult and you are experiencing excessive exhaustion and feelings of hopelessness, you are not alone.

As the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving documented, being a family caregiver can be high stress. It can also, in some cases, bring on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder caused by trauma. PTSD symptoms typically range from flashbacks and recurring dreams to insomnia and poor concentration.

The pandemic may well be making PTSD among caregivers more common.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report said the rates of symptoms of anxiety disorder and depression, as well as serious consideration of suicide, have been much higher for unpaid family caregivers than the public in general lately. One reason is that COVID-19 has put a stop to in-person social interaction for many of us. Before the coronavirus spread, family members and friends would visit regularly. This can no longer happen.

PTSD symptoms can also emerge for caregivers when a person receiving care has a chronic illness or disability. It is more common for those who suffered from anxiety or depression before caregiving than for someone who doesn’t have those conditions.

Resources to Help Support Caregivers at this Time

● AARP offers various resources such as articles and tips about family caregiving. Learn more at www.aarp.org/caregiving.
● The Institute on Aging Friendship Line at 1-800-971-0016 is a 24-hour toll free accredited crisis line for people 60 and older.
● 211 is a resource hotline for referrals to human, health, and social service organizations. Call 211 from your phone.
● The Caregiver Action Network is also a great resource for helpful information. Check them out at caregiveraction.org/covid-19 or call their front desk at 855-227-3640.
● Please also read all of my helpful articles about caregiving, nursing home care, and planning during COVID-19.

Are You a Caregiver for a Loved One During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

If you are a caregiver for a loved one, it is wise to plan in advance. Nursing homes in the DC Metro area cost $12,000-$14,000 a month, which can be catastrophic for most families. Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting your assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into a nursing home, while also helping ensure that you or your loved one get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. Please call us to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Elder Law Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Law Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Law Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Law DC: 202-587-2797

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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