People have always depended on families to provide emotional support and assist their older parents, grandparents, and other family members when they can no longer function independently. 

With most of the country nearing two years of sheltering in place, much of the human race has suddenly been forced to adjust to a ‘new normal’: parents home-schooling their children, families or roommates suddenly isolating in cramped quarters, donning a mask when leaving the house, and wiping down groceries after a stress-filled visit to the store.

While the changes have been exasperating, it is essential to remember the big picture. The world is facing a pandemic, and in many places across the world, people are following similar lockdowns, shutdowns, or social distancing. We also witnessed caregiver pandemic casualties

rise, especially before vaccine rollouts and even after. 

Family Caregiving ranges from assistance with daily activities and providing direct care to the care recipient to navigating complex health care and social services systems. The areas of the caregiving role include assistance with household tasks, self-care tasks, and mobility, provision of emotional and social support, health and medical care, advocacy and care coordination, and decision-making and surrogacy.

Today, the family caregiving role is broad in scope and often requires a significant time commitment. The complexity of the caregiving role has increased in recent years. Families traditionally have provided emotional support and assisted their older members with household and self-care tasks. Family caregivers now provide health and medical care at home, navigate complicated and fragmented health care and long-term service and support (LTSS), and serve in a surrogacy role that has legal implications. Given the scope and complexity of the family caregiving role, ensuring that caregivers are well-prepared is essential. Yet family caregivers’ educational needs are not systematically addressed, and training in the performance of caregiving tasks is inconsistent at best.

The scope, time commitment, and complexity of the family caregiving role make it unique in the care of older adults. No single health care or social service discipline is charged with assisting self-care and household tasks, providing emotional support, and performing health and medical tasks around the clock, seven (7) days per week. Thus, family caregivers play an essential role and key partners in health care and LTSS settings. 

Now there are many entries into the world of family caregiving. For some, the road is gradual, while a significant health event for others can instigate it. 

Of course, the first question is, where to start? Your entry into your role as a caregiver may unroll in many phases. These are awareness of your new responsibility, the unfolding of those responsibilities, increasing care demands, and all other else. Overall, it can be a process to grow accustomed to this new normal, and these phases of varying emotions are expected. Acknowledging this rollercoaster of emotions is an excellent place to start, with some self-compassion for this change in your life.

Family Caregiving: How To’s and Need to Know

Being a caregiver can creep up on you. Maybe it starts by dropping by your mom’s house and doing her laundry or taking her to a doctor’s appointment. Maybe you call your adult son with depression every day to check-in. Then you find yourself doing the grocery shopping and refilling prescriptions for your mom. Your son starts calling you to make him dinner a few times a week. Gradually, you find yourself doing more and more. You may not even realize it; you are committing to care for someone else. Sometimes, caregiving is triggered by a significant health event or acute diagnoses, such as a severe fall, motor vehicle accident, stroke, heart attack, or cancer diagnosis. Maybe you suddenly realize that dad’s memory lapses have become more severe, or maybe your wife was diagnosed with cancer. Life as you know it stops, and all your energy goes to caring for the ill person. And in an instant, caregiving becomes your new normal. How will you do it, and what do you need to know about family caregiving amidst a pandemic?

Finding Information. 

Caregivers often feel very uncertain about the future and feel the least informed about what is needed and expected. Finding the correct information is the first step. Find out as much as you can about the disease affecting the care recipient. Get the best possible diagnosis, determine what supports you need, learn what specific skills you need.

Build a Gold Medal Support Network. 

Caregiving can harm social relationships. Connections fall away as symptoms appear, the family changes, and people do not know how to help. By thinking of our family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances as part of a “circle” surrounding us, we can embrace the idea that support is essential for caregivers and should not be left up to chance. 

Build your Personal Resilience. 

Regardless of whether you end up caring for one year or six years, building resiliency is one way to help decrease caregiver burden. Resilience helps make the complex parts of caregiving doable. Building resilience helps caregivers sustain their health and capacity to care, both for themselves and others. When caregivers feel resilient, it can expand their capacity to move through difficult situations that are part of their caring role and reduce their stress susceptibility.

Continue to protect yourself and your loved one – get vaccinated! 

Get a vaccine and help your loved one get a vaccine, too. Get a vaccine booster shot as soon as recommended for you and your loved one to increase your protection. If you have questions, talk to your healthcare providers for advice. You should also talk to your healthcare provider about additional precautions you can take after you and your loved one are fully vaccinated. After you are fully vaccinated, continue to wear a mask indoors in public places. The vaccine will protect you from severe illness and death, but you can still be infected and transmit the COVID-19 virus and its variants to others.

Use healthy practices.   

As a caregiver, you should take all the precautions to avoid becoming infected yourself. Ensure that your loved one is also taking precautions. Do the basic standard protocol like washing your hands frequently, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue (or elbow) when you cough or sneeze, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily.  

  Follow the ingredients for a coping mindset. 

Adjust your expectations, do not view everything you had as essential, focus on what you can do, not what you cannot do, and go on a politeness binge.  

Each day you can decide to make positive choices, reflect on your values, and cheer on the front-line heroes, including those the family caregivers.

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