Published in ThisIsReno.com,
December 23, 2020
By Luiza Benisano, Community Engagement Associate
Accidents happen. Your mom or dad could suffer from a bad fall, you take them to the hospital for their injuries, and the next thing you know, you must care for them full time and become their caregiver. Someone you know may complain to you that they feel off, but they don’t want to go to the hospital because it might just be “nothing.” And now that nothing is something that you must take care of three times a week. You may be having a conversation with your grandma, and suddenly she is struggling to remember your name. You soon learn she has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and you must help take care of her.
Situations like this happen all at a moment’s notice – you are suddenly a family caregiver.
Becoming a family caregiver is an ongoing issue that many face. In fact, there are 66 million adults who have served as a family caregiver to an ill or disabled relative. The pandemic has magnified the difficulty of caring for someone. With the holidays coming up and rising numbers of COVID cases in our community, we are constantly having to be careful around those we surround ourselves with, especially with our elder family members — with seniors at a higher risk of developing more severe complications.
Family caregiving is already hard, to begin with. Although rewarding, caregiving can also be stressful. It involves many tedious tasks day in and day out — bathing, dressing, maintaining personal hygiene, toileting, assisting the person get out of a chair or bed, the list goes on. This dynamic involves a lot of close physical proximity between the caregiver and the person receiving care. With the number of cases of coronavirus surging, experienced caregivers have the added pressure of keeping seniors safe from potential exposure to the virus.
“Caregiving is part of the human condition.”
Family caregiving is often unexpected and a job you don’t prepare for. Oftentimes, the responsibilities of caregiving fall into people who least expect it. Individuals who are suddenly caregivers do not even realize they are a caregiver. In such instances, they think they are simply doing their due diligence for their family member. Due to the unforeseen circumstances that come with caregiving, individuals often must work fewer hours, change jobs, or even retire.
According to AARP and the Census Bureau, Nevada is projected to be the third fastest aging state through 2050. The influx of aging seniors every day means that we will be affected, and we need to be prepared.
Dealing with the Unexpected
Tod Sherman, the caregiver to his wife, is shocked at how quickly the tables can turn when it comes to caregiving. His wife’s disability made it necessary for him to stay home to be her caregiver. Just a few years ago, he suffered a heart attack and was cared for by his wife. Now the tables have turned.
“It’s crazy to think that just 7 years ago, she was the one taking care of me. She was active — walking dogs, she was my office manager and bookkeeper, but now she has lost the opportunity to go out and do things,” he said. “Every day, I help her put her socks and pants on, prepare her meals, which is a physical and emotional battle.”
Tod teaches Kundalini Yoga to veterans at the VA hospital as his outlet, but that was cut short due to COVID distancing restrictions.
According to Tod, the pandemic has now added a layer of anxiety and more PTSD for his wife, and for him, too. “Being responsible for someone is scary from an emotional aspect. That is multiplied by the coronavirus. You are more anxious and more triggered. You constantly must be alert and aware. Even when I have time to myself, I check on my wife every half hour.”
Bonnie Read, a family caregiver for her father and brother, said there were plenty of things she did not anticipate when it came to caregiving.
“I didn’t anticipate how I always needed to be there. If I left town for any reason, I needed to find a backup person immediately,” Bonnie said.
Besides taking care of her father, Bonnie is also caregiving for her brother remotely, which she says is even more difficult than caregiving for someone in the same proximity. She must schedule all his appointments, his kidney dialysis, and arrange all his transportation.
The Upsides of Technology
William Palmer III transitioned into becoming the family caregiver for his grandmother in Utah. He says the pandemic added the factor of distancing even further. It is an ordeal because he cannot visit his grandmother and only has caregivers to rely on.
“I cannot see her because I don’t want to be the person to kill my grandmother,” he says. One thing he is thankful for, however, is technology. He credits technology to being able to take care of things even if he is states away, like groceries and appointments for his 92-year-old grandmother.
At Revel Rancharrah, an independent living community in Reno, Lifestyle Director Tonya Stefan says despite the restrictions they had to put in place for their senior residents, they were able to connect two residents together through their Facebook portal, one residing in Colorado, the other in Reno.
“Our two residents were able to make the connection they both survived World War II,” she said. She shares both veterans were able to share stories of their experiences and exchanged a few words in Japanese – something they both picked up during the war. She says it is a victory for her when she sees residents make connections within the Revel community – something that may not have otherwise happened.
Preparation is Key
Family caregiving was an under-addressed issue before the pandemic. While the pandemic brings heightened attention to caregiving, it is critical to remember that many residents will continue providing care to their family members long after the vaccine.
“Caregiving is part of the human condition,” said former family caregiver Deanna Hearn. “It is never too early to start preparing for caregiving. Develop skills that will serve you well because years go by faster than we think. Before we know it, we are in a position to be a caregiver. Accidents happen. People get sick. It is good to think ahead of time.”
Everyone is going to become a caregiver at some point.
William shares, “You won’t have time in the future to actually prepare for caregiving, so start right now. Learn and take as many classes as you can. Preparing for caregiving is similar to preparing for childbirth. Everyone likes to plan for childbirth, but not planning and preparing for the next stage of life, which is caregiving for an aging family member, and ultimately, death.”
Kevin Melcher, the family caregiver to his father, says he is thankful that his father prepared for the process ahead of time, making the transition of moving to an independent living facility smooth for the both of them.
The Rewards of Caregiving
Despite the uneasiness and uncertainty, COVID-19 has brought upon everyone, caregivers in our community are resilient and see the silver lining to the pandemic.
Tod says it is unbelievable what he and his wife have gone through, but he is still thankful every day. “Caregiving is the greatest opportunity in a person’s life. It has made our love better. We have gotten so much closer and more attuned with each other. There is nobody I would rather be going through the pandemic with.”
Similarly, William shares how thankful and happy he is that he chose to be a caregiver for his family. “You learn about who you are and your family. You also grow as a person when you care for someone else. Finally, he shares a famous quote from former first lady Rosalyn Carter:
“There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who are caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”
Family caregiving can be isolating, but help and connection are available.
As part of the Caregiver Support Initiative, the Community Foundation of Western Nevada created WashoeCaregivers.org, a one-stop-shop for family caregivers.
Resources: The website has over 300 resources specifically for caregivers, including in-home care, respite care, home modifications, and medical equipment, and more. The resources are updated regularly to ensure the information provided to users is accurate and up to date.
Washoe Caregivers Guidebook: Download your free copy. https://washoecaregivers.org/guidebook/ The Washoe Caregivers Guidebook serves as an instructional manual for first-time family caregivers. Learn about activities of daily living, financial aspects of caregiving, and more.
Email Discussion Group: Sign up and connect with family caregivers. https://washoecaregivers.org/connect/ The Caregiver Support Initiative’s Email Discussion Group connects family caregivers to one another. Share caregiving stories, tips, and get your questions answered by family caregivers in our community. The Caregiver’s Support Initiative’s Email Discussion Group is filtered and moderated to ensure quality discussions.
Bonnie Read says of the guidebook and website, “These are the biggest tools we have as caregivers because there is so much information out there, and the website is a gift to people on where to turn for help.”
Family caregiving was an under-addressed issue before the pandemic. While the pandemic brings heightened attention to caregiving, it is critical to remember that many residents will continue providing care to their family members long after the COVID-19 vaccine.
For more information on the Caregiver Support Initiative, please call the Community Foundation of Western Nevada at 775-333-5499.