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How the Pandemic has Affected the Health of Caregivers

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The pandemic disrupted virtually every aspect of life during 2020 and 2021, including the lives of caregivers. Despite the risks, they had to continue providing services to vulnerable, elderly and disabled people, even if it cost them personally to do so.

There are, according to the International Alliance of Carer Organizations, around 43 million people in the US who act as a caregiver for a member of the family. The informal caregiver market is gigantic and the backbone of long-term care. 

The activity, however, can take its toll on mental health. Caregivers often struggle with difficult relationship dynamics and shifting lifestyle requirements of the people to whom they provide care. Research suggests that people who give care to members of the family are much more likely to experience depression, anxiety and chronic stress. It may even shorten their lives due to a reduction in the length of their telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of the chromosomes. 

The pandemic is causing additional strain

There’s now evidence that the pandemic may be causing caregivers additional stress and making their lives even more challenging. Many carers are experiencing caregiver burnout because of the worry of the disease spreading to their household. They fear what might happen if a vulnerable adult were to get it from them. 

There’s also the feeling of failure and guilt that caregivers experience. They often feel like they’re not good enough for the job, which can lead to a sensation of low mood and depression. 

The pandemic is also affecting caregivers in additional ways. For instance, there’s an increased sense of isolation, due to social isolation and physical distancing measures. Caregivers are finding it harder to get the in-person support that they would have had, pre-pandemic. 

There’s also increased financial strain. Caring for an elderly or disabled relative isn’t cheap. It requires a lot of time and money. The pandemic has made this worse by potentially reducing household incomes. Inflation is an issue too. People with savings are seeing their real wealth eroded by higher prices across the board. 

Lastly, delays or cancellations of primary care services are also having a significant impact on caregiver wellbeing. Family members who look after relatives are finding it much more difficult to get the formal medical support they need because of the burden of COVID-19

Given that caregivers who are looking after family members are finding it harder to take care of all of the needs of their loved ones, they may also look to professionals to relieve some of the strain from them. With options like respite senior care services available, professional carers can temporarily take over some of the responsibilities of the primary caregiver. This can help them both take care of their personal needs and also mitigate the risks of burnout so common in the field.

How to move forward

Given the shifts that have occurred on the care scene during the pandemic, many are now asking how they might move forward and provide better outcomes for family members in the caregiver role.

There’s now a greater realization that certain adjustments need to be made. Caregivers are increasingly seeing that they cannot continue to provide good services while also carrying a heavy emotional burden on their backs at the same time. If support for society is absent, they need to find new coping mechanisms to get through the day. 

Part of the process is creating some psychological distance between themselves and the person they care for. We’re also likely to see more caregiver relief services: agencies that come in and provide care while the primary carer takes a break. 

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