Irving: Caregiving in the age of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County
Contributed photo.

    At the beginning of the shelter-in-place orders, I saw an acquaintance post online about how they’ve found themselves suddenly navigating caregiving for an elderly neighbor.

    They began to calendar in grocery store runs, picking up medications and making daily calls to check in on their neighbor’s physical and mental well-being. As the tasks mounted and as the pandemic worsened, the individual’s stressors and challenges also increased.

    What once was a distant relationship of friendly hellos transformed into an intimate relationship and time spent taking care of their vulnerable neighbor.

    There is no doubt the pandemic has shifted our obligations and began to shed light on how common it is to unexpectedly become a caregiver and immediately feel the stressors that come with the role.

    When people suddenly find themselves acting as a caregiver, it quickly becomes apparent that the demands fundamentally alter one’s life. The caregiver’s experience becomes wrapped in the day-to-day welfare of the person being cared for. Days are determined by administering medicine, bathroom needs, getting dressed, and doctor visits — all of which demand time and attention. At the end of the day, the caregiver’s well-being takes a sideline.

    Now, caregivers are facing a more significant hurdle. The pandemic is rapidly increasing their stress, elevating a sense of isolation, and straining the caregiver’s ability to find respite.

    According to the CDC, unpaid adult caregivers providing critical aid to people at high risk of contracting COVID-19 are enduring elevated levels of stress, depression, and other mental health crises.

    The external resources they once depended on to give them a break from their duties, such as Adult Daycare, are now virtual, leaving the caretaker with limited to no opportunities to take time for themselves.

    The work of a caregiver is noble and needed, but the truth is these individuals need care as much as anyone else.

    Getting this population resourced and empowered to take time to prioritize their well-being is my goal. My work is to ensure those who step into this role have the tools and knowledge they need to provide the best care for their loved ones and for themselves. This is why I am speaking during the Caregivers Count 10th Annual Virtual Conference being held online Sept. 12, 19, 26 and Oct. 3 by the Aging Services Collaborative of Santa Clara County.

    The free four-part series features workshops for family caregivers interested in emotional well-being, paying for care, tech tools, and stress reduction.

    There is no question stress has increased across our entire community. However, for caregivers, it has risen to unprecedented figures.

    In July 2020, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s conducted a survey about the impacts of COVID-19 on family caregivers. They found 83% of respondents reported having an increase of one or more stress symptoms typically found in people experiencing severe stress. When the person giving care is reaching these levels of stress and facing severe mental health challenges, they need opportunities and resources to improve their daily lives during and after the pandemic.

    That’s why the Caregivers Count Conference couldn’t come at a better time. It’s a chance to learn imperative information, resource share and connect with other caregivers. The conference is a mighty force that will show caregivers they are not alone in these trying times.

    In this moment of increased risks for our most vulnerable community members, many of us are likely serving as caregivers without even realizing it.

    The bottom line: We need each other now more than ever before.

    Christina Irving is the clinical services director and family consultant for the Bay Area Caregiver Resource Center. 

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