Caregiving around the clock | From the Editor | Thetribune

I can only imagine how hard it is to be a caregiver in a “normal”

I can only imagine how hard it is to be a caregiver in a “normal” time, but right now it must be considerably more challenging.

All of us have had to make adjustments during the time of COVID-19, but caregivers have done double duty or more, having to adjust for themselves as well as those in their care.

November, among its other designations, is National Family Caregivers Month. This year’s theme is “Caregiving Around the Clock” — appropriate for this full-time job that’s often coupled with other roles.

“The coronavirus pandemic has been especially challenging because it has kept us from seeing family and friends. Having Parkinson’s can be very isolating — when you add in the potential health risks of seeing others, it makes things even more difficult,” writes Leslie Peters, a Colorado Springs resident and Parkinson’s advocate, in a recent column for Parkinson’s Life online magazine.

Leslie calls herself a care partner to her husband, Steve, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2007. They manage his care together.

“My message to caregivers would be to take things one day at a time, because sometimes looking at the whole big picture can be overwhelming. I have a favorite quote by U.S. professor Joseph Campbell: ‘We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.’ Know that you are not alone — we are all in this together.”

There’s no one fit pattern of family caregivers, who may be young or old, male or female, married partner, parent, sibling or friend. They help loved ones with a variety of diagnoses: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, mental illness, heart disease — anything that would be difficult or impossible to manage on one’s own.

“Often the recipient is a spouse with dementia or heart disease who needs a high level of care for 34 hours or more a week, and the caregiver has been providing that help for more than five years,” states the AARP website.

A 2015 study by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving found that more than a third of caregivers were ages 50 to 64, about a quarter were 35 to 49, another quarter were 18- to 34-year-olds, and 7% were age 75 or older. The study also found that almost half of family caregivers are adult children caring for their parents, and 20% of family caregivers are wives or husbands caring for their spouses.

“Many of these people don’t even consider themselves to be caregivers,” said Amelia Schafer, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado. “That’s my mom … that’s my husband … that’s my friend … Caregivers act out of love and loyalty for this special person and give of themselves without expecting anything in return. The act of giving is its own reward.”

She added, “For many, it is putting the person they love ahead of themselves.”

In the last eight months, many more people have been thrust into the role of caregiver.

“COVID-19 is creating a new cohort of people who are identifying themselves as caregivers for the first time because it’s creating a need that hadn’t been there,” says Ann Steffen, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who specializes in older adults and behavioral medicine. “Role changes, especially when they happen very suddenly, take people by surprise.”

Surprises like these bring stress and uncertainty.

“Stress has gone up,” said Robert Stephen, AARP vice president of caregiving and health. “Almost three-quarters of the caregivers are saying they’re more stressed. That really, really points to the need for more self-care.”

AARP offers this list of ways for caregivers to cope with stress:

• Take an inventory of your resources. In high-stress situations, we kick into survival mode. Steffen, 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.

• 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.

• Draw on your strengths. You are stronger than you think. Gen Xers, for instance, 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.

• 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 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.”

While taking care of others’ needs, take time to take care of yourself, too, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help in the form of agencies, support groups, sharing of information, websites and hotlines.

Find a list of Parkinson Association of the Rockies support groups at bit.ly/3e13TR7.

The Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado provides all of its services (educational programs, support groups and informational services) at no charge to Colorado families. The Colorado Chapter’s free 24/7 bilingual Helpline is 800-272-3900. Information also is available at alz.org/co.

For AARP’s comprehensive list of caregiver resources, visit bit.ly/2J9NRsH.

Editor of the four Pikes Peak Newspapers weeklies, Michelle Karas has called the Pikes Peak region home for more than five years. Contact her at [email protected].

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