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Family caregivers manage the stress of taking care of others and themselves

Keeping loved ones safe during COVID-19
There's now a hotline specifically for caregivers
Posted at 5:59 AM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-28 18:33:03-04

BALTIMORE, Md. — Many Generation X'ers might be feeling the pressure of being caught between caring for their children and their aging parents during the pandemic.

As Maryland moves closer to a full reopening, some family caregivers might have concerns about transmitting the virus to one of their loved ones.

Many mothers and fathers or sons and daughters may now find themselves with another position in the family as caregiver since the pandemic forced people to shelter in place.

The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP released a Caregiving Report for 2020, in May.

The study shows there are about ten million more people taking care of a loved one today than there were just five years ago.

Researchers found one in five Americans now find themselves in the position of being an unpaid, family caregiver.

The study also shows the health of the average family caregiver is worse now than it was five years ago.

Since the pandemic began, many people who used to have at home care now are relying on a family member for their needs.

Care coach Maura Horton said "there's lots of people that used to have at home care coming in, and people might feel heightened or worried about bringing them in, so it might add extra duties on the family members that may overtake that."

Horton took on the role of caregiver after her late husband, Boston College and North Carolina State football coach Don Horton, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2006.

“We are all really caregivers, but certain caregivers have extra challenges if the individual they're caring for has limited mobility, dexterity, or mental capacity,” Horton said.

Horton recognizes the extra duties a family caregiver takes on can come with a lot of extra stress.

“One of the biggest concerns is not only physical health, but mental health for whomever they're carrying for. So it's extra stress and extra creativity that is needed to help manifest through this time,” Horton said.

Caregivers may wonder who’s there to take care of them when they need help.

“Sometimes nobody. So, the caregivers have to take a breath and take a few moments for themselves and stop and try to take care of themselves, at all times too, to make sure that they are doing the best they can for themselves and not only for whomever they're taking care of,” Horton said.

With stay-at-home orders lifted across the state, some caregivers may have concerns about transmitting COVID-19 as they visit their loved one.

The AARP offers several tips to keep family members safe.

Horton recommends relying on technology to automate as many activities as possible in and around the home.

Making it a smart home with a Google Nest or Amazon Alexa hub.

You can use the hub to help eliminate common touch points by automating turning on or off the lights and use contact-free food delivery services for groceries or prescription drugs.

“I think no one wants to bring harm to anyone at this time, but the more automation we can bring to older people's lives the better it will be for them, not only for now but in the long run,” Horton said.

“The great thing is you can employ grandkids to help as well, who know everything about technology. So, there's always somebody there who can help bridge the gap, but we have to be patient for sure, with people that don't know or understand or are threatened by technology” Horton added.

There are a few things family members can do together which also could help caregivers manage the pressure of the pandemic.

“Try not to be consumed by what's happening right now. Try to be creative and curious and learn more about their lives, or things that happened to them that might be really interesting facts that we can have moments of respite even on our mental health,” Horton said.

Additional tips from the AARP on how to cope:

1. Take an inventory of your resources. In high-stress situations, we kick into survival mode. Ann Steffen, a clinical psychology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, recommends stepping back and taking stock of the emotional resources you have at your disposal. Whom can you call for support? Who might be able to pick up items from the store for you? Think back to other crises in your past, try to recall what resources you drew on that helped you through that time and write them down.

2. Take time for yourself. Days may feel chaotic, but make time to exercise and talk to friends. Carve out a few moments in your day for a favorite hobby, like reading, drawing or baking. Even a long shower or bath can help calm frayed nerves.

3. Draw on your strengths. Author Ada Calhoun points out that Gen Xers are already equipped for challenging environments. As a generation that went through adolescence during the AIDS epidemic, entered adulthood during a major recession, and today has high levels of debt, Gen Xers are accustomed to weathering hard times. “We are used to tragedy and to feelings of helplessness and to watching a lot of television,” Calhoun says. Now, “we get to exercise all those muscles.”

4. Draw on the strengths of your parents. They may need more support right now, but they also have the benefit of perspective, having lived through the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and other frightening, stressful periods in U.S. history. “The older someone gets, the better they get at managing their relationships and stressful experiences,” Steffen says. “Older adults have that wisdom and that ability to call upon past successful coping mechanisms.”