Caregiver Isolation and Coronavirus

Coronavirus and caregiver isolation have added stress to a situation that was already difficult to manage.

Caring for someone with a chronic condition can be stressful in normal times. You may have already felt alone or like most people did not understand what you were going through. Now, with shelter-in-place orders and the coronavirus, you may be feeling even more isolated.

Caregivers holding hands

Consider these three possible scenarios:

1. You were caring for a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility. But now you are now no longer able to see them.

2. You were caregiving at home with help. Family or hired caretakers came for a certain number of hours a week. But now, no help is available. Therefore, your routine has completely changed with no warning.

3. You were already the sole caregiver with no help. You already felt isolated. Now, you may not be able to leave the house at all. In addition, you worry about you or your loved one getting the virus.

Each scenario is unique, but what do they have in common? The coronavirus crisis has increased caregiver isolation and stress in all scenarios.

Coronavirus and Caregiver Isolation – What’s the Problem?

Caring for someone with a chronic disease or illness means that caregivers can experience stress for weeks, months, or even years. Chronic stress can cause health problems for caregivers. For example, caregivers can experience high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, or a weakened immune system. (1) In addition, older adults who are lonely or isolated have a higher risk of depression. (1) So as caregivers become more isolated because of coronavirus, they are at risk for more physical and mental health problems.  And when a caregiver’s health suffers, their loved may one suffer too.

What’s the Solution?

Caregivers need to reduce stress and worry where possible. However, the solution for caregiver isolation will differ for each person. The following suggestions can give you some ideas.

Scenario A:

You are a caregiver who can no longer visit a loved one living in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Visitors are banned for an indefinite period.

If this is you, you may be feeling worry, fear, or lonely. Those are legitimate feelings. But it’s important to not spend all your time in those emotions. Find new ways to distract yourself and occupy your time and thoughts. When you can see your loved one again, you want to be mentally and physically fit to care again. Suggestions include (2):

1. Get outside regularly. Go for a walk in your neighborhood or a trail nearby. To extend your time outside take pictures, listen to a podcast or an audible book.

2. Start or finish a project around your home. Do you like to garden? Is there something you’ve been wanting to fix around the house that you haven’t had time to do? Do you like to build or paint? Is there a closet or area of the house you need to organize?

3. Connect with family or friends. Is there someone you have lost touch with while busy care giving? Reach out and reconnect while you have extra time.

4. Research your family tree. Similarly, write about important events from your life with your loved one. What stories do you want other family members, like grandchildren, to know?

5. Connect with others experiencing the same worries and frustration. Many support groups have created online options to connect during these uncertain times.

Scenario B:

The caregiver who no longer has help. Instead of too much time on your hands, you don’t have enough time. So what can you do to establish a new routine and manage stress? Jacobs and Mayer suggest the following:

1. Look for new ways to connect with your loved one. Do they like a certain kind of music? If so, play old records or use apps like Pandora (available on your phone or computer) to play a certain genre of music. Spend time looking through photo albums together. Also, tell each other details or stories you remember from a certain event. You might be surprised to learn what you both remembered.

2. Look for activities that your loved can do safely on their own. For instance, would they enjoy listening to an audio book? Do they like documentaries or a genre of shows? If so, consider a subscription to Netflix or other streaming service. These services can open a library of new shows to watch. Then, while your loved one is entertained, use the time to do something you need or want to do around the house.

3. Create a regular time each day for separation. For example, let’s say your loved one watches a certain show at 11:00 am each day. Make that time your alone time and build it into the schedule each day. Let your loved one know that you are still in the house, but you will be in a different room for 30-60 minutes. Telling them what to expect, and doing it regularly, helps establish that time as part of your new routine.

4. Limit activities that cause you stress. For example, watching or reading the news can be stressful in these uncertain times. So, if you find yourself growing irritable or anxious after reading the news, stop. Check the news once or twice a day, then let it go.

5. Create a general schedule for the day. Then talk about it with your loved one each morning. Some people prefer to see a schedule. In that case, write it out. Let your loved one know what will be happening to relieve anxiety or uncertainty.

6. Stay in touch with family, friends, or neighbors. You may not be able to see family or friends in person right now. Texting is an option. But picking up the phone and having a conversation might be more satisfying. In addition, you can write a letter to an old friend. Or try new technology, like FaceTime or Zoom, to talk to someone online. Online meetings may not be as fulfilling as seeing someone in person. However, they are a viable means to keep yourself connected during these uncertain times.

7. Stay connected to what is happening in your neighborhood or community. For instance, apps like NextDoor can help you stay up to date on local events. Furthermore, it can also be a way to ask neighbors for help. Although you may not ask for help under normal circumstances, you may need help now. People are more willing to help than might think.

8. Keep in touch with your doctor. A change in routine can be as unsettling for your loved one. So, if they are more agitated than normal, call your doctor and ask for advice.

Conclusion

In conclusion, caregiver isolation and stress is real during this coronavirus pandemic. Have compassion for yourself and the unexpected situation you may find yourself. These are difficult times but you are doing the best you can.

If you feel you need help in finding a manageable routine, let’s talk. I am a certified wellness coach and Doctor of Physical Therapy. My specialty is working with individuals and families living with chronic disease or illness. Let’s partner together to help you find a new normal that works for you.

Aimee Reiss, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Wellness Coach

References:

1. Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks . National Institute on Aging Web site. https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks. Published April 23, 2019.  Accessed April 23, 2020.

2. Gill, V. Caring for the caregiver during COVID-19.  Utah Health San Antonio Web site.https://news.uthscsa.edu/caring-for-the-caregiver-during-covid-19/. Published April 13, 2020.  Accessed April 23, 2020.

3. Jacobs, B. and Mayer, J. Caregivers and coronavirus: dealing with forced isolation. AARP Web site. https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/home-care/info-2020/caregiving-isolation-quarantine.html.  Published March 17, 2020.  Accessed April 23, 2020.

Disclaimer: This blog is a resource through which you may obtain information regarding your health and wellness.  Information is intended for the general reader and is not a substitute for medical advice.  The content in this blog is intended to be informational only and not interpreted as specific advice for you.  There may be delays, omissions, or inaccuracies in information contained in this blog. You should always consult with a licensed healthcare professional who is familiar with your health and past medical history before making any changes you may read about in this blog.

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