When my mother and father in their 80’s came to live with me, I was very excited to have an opportunity to both be with them and to be able to reciprocate the care and generosity they provided me throughout my life. When my Mom died two and a half years ago, I became my father’s caregiver and main emotional support. Dad has diabetes and neuropathy and was diagnosed 4-5 years ago with early Alzheimer’s. In the last 2 years other health issues have arisen, and his memory has been deteriorating.
The pandemic has exacerbated the loneliness and isolation of this very social person as his health has continued to decline. As a former emergency department nurse, I know HOW to take care of most things like the chronic wound on his foot, ordering the catheters he has to use four times a day for a neurogenic bladder, coordinating all his medical appointments, and making sure he gets his meds to name just a few of the basics. That doesn’t even begin to address the financial and legal matters there are to manage.
In all honesty it began to take a toll. As a business owner, I have client meetings, team meetings and time that I need to work on projects scattered throughout my calendar. Dad couldn’t remember when I told him I’d be able to be with him, so he didn’t know when he could count on seeing me and I felt constantly stressed and pulled in a so many directions trying to take care of him in between appointments. Caretakers, I included, often feel that they are not doing enough and that burden is very heavy.
This went on for some time, until one day when I was particularly feeling overwhelmed and in tears, my partner and my assistant suggested rearranging my mornings. Now every morning from 8:30-10am is “Dad” time for whatever needs to happen, wound care, paying bills or simply having breakfast together. This has been a huge relief to both of us, he knows he’ll see me every morning shortly after he wakes up and I know I’ll have the time set aside to do what needs to be done. Oh, why didn’t I think of that? Probably because I’m running from this to that all the time.
Everyone’s biggest asset is time, and for working caregivers there never seems to be enough hours in the day. Reports indicate that caregivers are spending on average an additional nine hours a week (a full workday!) on caregiving activities in 2020 and 27% are spending 20 hours or more. The pandemic has added mental and physical demands that are increasing the stress significantly. Caregiving can be such an incredibly lonely and stressful undertaking. Historically, caregivers wait about a year of caregiving to begin researching outside resources that can help them.
Until I began researching and reaching out, I didn’t realize just how many people there are who work and are also caregivers. There are more than 24 million working caregivers’ providing in-home personal and health care for older adults and people with disabilities. That’s not counting caregiving for children due to school closures since the pandemic started.
This a labor force that has more than doubled since 2007. There are two primary reasons for this, a shift in long-term care from institutional settings like nursing facilities to people aging in place in their own homes and from institutional settings like nursing facilities to people aging in place in their own homes and communities. Also fueling this growth is the U.S. Census Bureau’s projections that the 65-and-older population will grow from 56 million in 2020 to 85.7 million in 2050.
The job market is uncertain and yet, feeling the strain of caregiving, many people are forced out of work or depart on their own. Women are leaving at four times the rate of men. While this seems bleak, the coronavirus has prompted a sharp and sudden acceleration in the implementation of family-care benefits in workplaces nationwide. More companies are offering subsidized backup elder- or child-care.
Flexible work arrangements are becoming much more commonplace. It is estimated that three quarters of American corporate workplaces are now offering flexible arrangements, spurred in large part by the pandemic. These trends all favor the unique work-life juggling act that caregivers experience and that helps.
Knowing where to find free or low-cost advice, like in the resources listed below, can assist in accessing resources of all kinds. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging and accessing AARP’s resource guides may also point you in a fruitful direction.
Caregivers are used to dancing with changing circumstances, however, even the most adaptable people have felt the added strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sharing our experiences and knowledge with other working caregivers about our challenges, available resources and what’s working or not, can go a long way toward easing the strain on a working caregiver.
As a working business owner – caregiver, I acknowledge each and every caregiver on National Caregiver Day and vow to incorporate my experience into our business and to be a better, more supportive and aware leader to those who work with and for me and what they’re dealing with.
May God bless you and give you strength.
Support Line at 1-877-333-5885 Free help for individuals taking care of a loved one