With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, family caregivers added yet another layer of safety considerations to an already lengthy list. Social distancing is especially important for caregivers because the CDC has stated that “older adults and people with serious underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness, especially heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.” Consequently, they may choose to either stay away from the people they are caring for, or shelter in place with them to prevent exposure to the virus. Either way, the effect has been tragic, as social isolation has become a growing and pervasive problem.
No Respite For The Lonely
The Central Illinois Agency on Aging is an initial point of contact for caregivers taking care of a loved one in their home. I recently talked to a caregiver who takes care of family member with a cognitive condition and had been considering respite care for himself. With the need for social distancing, however he does not want to take the chance of a home care aide coming into the home and transmitting the virus to him or his family member. Meanwhile, other means of respite care are becoming unavailable due to precautions at adult day health, skilled care and assisted living facilities. Closing respite options to caregivers makes self-care even more challenging—both for them and for the care recipients who depend on them as opportunities for socialization.
Another caregiver reported that all of his band performances were cancelled, which had been a way for him to get out of the house for a couple hours. While he can practice at home, he suggests that he “loses his edge” that is required to play in front of audiences. The respite, or break, he once received that allowed him to play his instrument or go on long bike rides was no longer possible due to COVID-19 restrictions on the provider.
In 2018, an AARP study reported that “unpaid caregivers, low-income individuals and those who identify as LGBTQ are at increased risk for chronic loneliness.” In addition, according to a recent Illinois Department on Aging presentation, caregivers of persons with dementia are “twice as likely to have physical or psychological problems and are at much higher risk for social isolation.”
Glimmers Of Hope
The Central Illinois Agency on Aging, Inc. has a grant through the federal government that supports informal caregivers. Among the services we provide are information and referral services by phone or online; respite care for caregivers through a home health aide that helps provide supervision in the home; and one-on-one counseling through the Bradley University Counseling Research and Training Clinic.
Our respite providers are diligent about protecting their staff and the older adults they serve by taking extra precautions—wearing masks, handwashing before and after direct contact, maintaining a safe distance from each other, nasal swabbing, and monitoring elevated temperatures, sore throat and cough.
While the news has been dismal given the pandemic, there are glimmers of hope—including restaurants and grocery stores offering food to children not attending school, grocery stores setting aside specific hours for seniors to shop, and churches offering additional volunteer help. The Central Illinois Agency on Aging joins the list with helpful resources for caregivers, older adults or those with disabling conditions who are experiencing the effects of this isolating illness. Please feel free to contact us by calling (309) 674-2071, Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 5pm, or visiting our website at ciaoa.net. PM
Mitch Forrest, MSW, LSW, CIRS-A/D is a family caregiver information and assistance specialist at the Central Illinois Agency on Aging, Inc.