The prolonged pandemic is putting a spotlight on the growing challenges of caregiving. From seasoned caregivers to those who are taking on the responsibilities for the first time, families are doubling down on their efforts to keep their loved ones safe and healthy.
Keiro spoke with Iyashi Care Social Worker Kanako Fukuyama about what she has observed this past year when it comes to supporting older adults and their family caregivers. Kanako said the pandemic is forcing many caregivers to make tougher choices, especially given how long it is lasting.
To Get Outside Help or Not, That is the Question
Kanako shared that one common decision that a lot of caregivers had to make at the start of the pandemic was whether or not to seek or continue using outside help. Kanako shared an example of a patient’s family who made the difficult choice to stop allowing a paid home car aide to assist their parents. “They were afraid the home care aide might bring [in] the virus and increase the risk. Now, the adult children are having to visit the patient and take on the caregiving tasks by themselves. That’s a lot stress and burden.”
However, the prolonged pandemic put that family in a situation to possibly reconsider their decision. Kanako said, “Six months into the pandemic, some of the families decided that they could not continue caring for their loved ones alone and [needed] to think about what’s safe.” For those families considering outside help again, Kanako help them to inquire about and understand the safety measures each agency had in place, such as sanitizing, washing, PPE, etc., and decide what was ultimately best for their situation. She also stressed the importance of family caregivers understanding the CDC guidelines as well.
The pandemic has derailed care plans for many patients, family caregivers, and their families. Kanako said she spoke to a woman who had planned to admit her husband to a care facility just before the pandemic began in March 2020. She was forced to reconsider and decided to keep caring for her husband alone at home for the remainder of the year.
“For her it was sad. If he goes to a facility, she can’t visit him during the holidays,” Kanako shared. “She realized no one can visit him during the holidays, and that’s depressing if you have to spend the holidays by yourself.”
Older adults without family members nearby had to grapple with an even harder challenge. Many things that older adults used on a regular basis such as ride share programs, grocery assistance, and volunteer services have been temporarily discontinued.
Kanako said those who can use telehealth services and Zoom have managed, but the pandemic is further isolating some older adults who relied heavily on those discontinued services and resources.
“Especially for seniors, the lack of socialization and contact is really huge. It needs to be addressed but the reality is, with COVID-19, it’s very difficult.”
Balancing Act—Red Light, Green Light, but Trickiest is the Yellow Light
Activities like allowing older relatives to go for a walk outside or even run a simple errand are more difficult because of the risk of exposure to the virus.
While there aren’t current public restrictions on these activities, family members must now educate themselves on the changing restrictions thoroughly, weigh those potential risks themselves, and make those challenging decisions.
“It’s a balance. We don’t want to deprive them of something they used to enjoy if we can manage the risk,” Kanako added. “You shouldn’t be so afraid of the virus that it prevents you from doing absolutely anything.”
“It’s kind of like a traffic light. Everyone’s light is different for risk. Some people feel a lot safer than how you feel, but each of you will have your own traffic light.” She explained that green light activities can mean there’s little to no risk, while red could be something that is out of the question like visiting a friend at their home.
Meanwhile, those yellow light decisions can be the most stressful ones. She said those who are making these assessments feel a lot of pressure and anxiety.
“They don’t want to be responsible if their parents get COVID-19, because they took them out shopping. They’re going to regret [it].” Kanako acknowledged there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this. She recommended families review safety guidelines regularly and have an open conversation with loved ones on what to do and how to act.
Acknowledging and Validating Family Caregivers
Kanako said that despite these challenging circumstances, Iyashi Care patients are resilient and have been weathering the pandemic. “They may be frustrated that they can’t go about as they used to, but at the same time, they understand the reasons why and the need to adjust.”
She acknowledges and respects the tough role family caregivers are facing. “You can only do your best. And we know that all family caregivers are doing exactly that, and I think it’s my job to validate their efforts, so that they can continue to do their best.”
Note: Reading, reviewing, and fully understanding the CDC guidelines and assessing the risk are critical in making decisions for yourselves and your loved ones during the pandemic.