November 18, 2020

COVID-19 Made Me A Caregiver: What Now?

Senior woman sits on couch smiling with family surrounding her
As the coronavirus spreads across the nation and throughout the world, millions of people are coping with the unanticipated effects the virus has caused. For instance, many individuals who previously relied on the help of professional caregivers, have now been unexpectantly thrown into the role of providing this vital care for those most vulnerable to the disease – be it an aging spouse, parent, or other relative.

Providing care to a loved one while also being attentive to your own needs can be difficult to navigate, especially during a pandemic. However, it’s important to remember the wide range of resources and support available to help you stay organized and find balance in your own life.

“Caring for a loved one can be a fulfilling experience, and it is often an opportunity to give back to someone who has given so much,” said Lakelyn Hogan, gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead. “But it’s important to be mindful of the physical, mental and emotional toll caregiving can have on our lives. By taking a moment to assess the specific challenges we may encounter and determine a plan of action, we can create a caregiving environment that is beneficial for everyone involved.”

If you’re just beginning your caregiving journey, Hogan recommends considering the following tips to set yourself up for a successful and empowered experience.

Setting Yourself Up for Success as a Caregiver

1. Stay organized. As a primary caregiver, you’ll likely need to understand and manage your loved one’s financial, legal and medical affairs. Being prepared and storing all important documents in one place can help alleviate any unnecessary stress when this information is needed. You may also consider creating a schedule that details the ins and outs, routines and nuances of a loved one’s care. Keep a file in an easy-to-reach location, such as a nightstand, to allow easy access to information.

2. Practice open communication. Caregivers shoulder many responsibilities, but one of the most crucial is the ability to effectively communicate with family members and other care providers. If you’re a family caregiver, it’s important to plan for the inevitable tough talks that may be needed with older relatives. Ask your loved one about their needs and priorities, and be prepared to communicate these preferences with others. If you’re still working, make sure to let employers know of your new responsibilities.

3. Get support. If you have become the primary caregiver and it’s getting to be too much, don’t be afraid to ask for help or accept someone’s assistance if they offer. Discuss specific tasks that your siblings or professionals can help with such as meal preparation, light housekeeping or respite care at home. Make the most of support groups, online resources, and help lines or chats to find answers to your questions, share ideas and even talk with experts and other caregivers.

4. Take care of your own health. Caregiving should not cost your physical and mental wellbeing. Remember to prioritize your own needs when providing care to others. For instance, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help you relieve stress. Try small changes first: Eat a good breakfast, drink plenty of water and have healthy snacks, fruits, vegetables and nuts on hand. When it comes to exercise, try to fit in what you can, even if you only have 10 or 15 minutes.

5. Minimize the risk of COVID-19. During these unprecedented times, it’s important to take precautionary recommendations to help prevent the spread of the disease from trusted public health agencies like the CDC in the US and CPHA in Canada. Wipe down surfaces you frequently touch such as light switches and countertops, avoid close contact with those who are sick and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Consider postponing non-essential doctor visits or opting for a telemedicine appointment instead.

While some days as a caregiver will be challenging, remember to look for the small victories and happy moments throughout. And, remind yourself often of the love you hold for the senior who needs you. For more information on how to remain positive and provide care for your loved ones, visit https://www.caregiverstress.com/stress-management.