The impacts of COVID-19 on the older-adult population on Martha’s Vineyard are far-reaching, but families or individuals who care for aging loved ones also bear the weight of the pandemic.
For folks at the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living, advocating for caregivers goes hand-in-hand with providing services for older adults.
Administrative assistant at the center Allison Roberts said the isolation caused by health restrictions during the pandemic has been difficult for everyone. But being isolated and starved of regular communication with friends and family is particularly detrimental for older adults with cognitive impairments.
“Whenever you have older people with these kinds of cognitive delays and deficits, it really starts a decline in their functioning,” Roberts said.
This creates concern for those who dedicate time to making sure their loved one is comfortable and happy. In response to the stress placed on caregivers, the center started offering a support group that brings people together into one Zoom room to talk about their experiences and to connect.
Roberts said the center was able to obtain iPads to give to folks who need a device for Zoom calls, and also provided training to caregivers so they could assist their loved ones in accessing the virtual platform.
“We knew that not only was the person with the cognitive impairment going to experience a decline, but the people who are caring for them as well,” Roberts said. “We saw a huge uptick in caregivers’ anxieties and depression, and all these issues that they were maybe already experiencing, but then were made worse by the fact that they couldn’t get family members to come and visit or give them a break.”
The need for dementia caregiver support has grown so much that the virtual meeting takes place every week instead of every other week, as it has in the past.
Roberts stressed the herculean nature of the task presented to caregivers, saying that even small things like going grocery shopping become “a huge ordeal” when there is no one to stay home with an older adult who would normally be at the Center for Living, utilizing its in-person day services.
On top of the Zoom programming, Roberts added that folks at the center are always available for phone calls, and will regularly reach out to clients and their families to check in.
They are also considering sending out a survey in January to determine if people need additional caregiver support.
The benefit of bringing caregivers together and allowing them to connect with one another, Roberts said, can’t be overstated.
“I think it’s really the sense of community and understanding you get from speaking with people who are experiencing the same thing that you are going through — that’s really crucial,” Roberts said. “It’s nice for people to hear, ‘Oh, I am sorry you are experiencing that with your mom, here is what happened with my husband when he was doing the same kind of behavior, and this is what helped me.’”
She noted that members of the support group share contact information with each other, so they can stay connected outside the programming. If anyone in the larger community knows of someone who is caring for a loved one, Roberts suggested reaching out and asking if they need any assistance, or if they want to have a chat.
“Family caregivers are generally so overwhelmed. These people are kind of already pushed to their limits, and it’s a huge additional weight for them,” she said.
Executive director for the Center for Living Leslie Clapp said caregivers on-Island come in a couple of different categories: Some live with their loved ones and provide for them on a day-to-day basis, and others are distanced but are still providing regular support.
Clapp said the former category often “never gets a break,” while the latter group experiences other challenges even though they aren’t physically present.
Isolation, according Clapp, has “always been the enemy of older folks.”
And in a time when it’s increasingly easy to be isolated (and is actually encouraged), Clapp said those who were originally relying on the daily in-person services at the center are in trying times.
“Now the idea is that the more isolated you are the better, and that is so hard on people who, for example, were coming to us every day, and spending five or six hours with us every day,” Clapp said. “That person had a place to go, friends, things to do, and lots of laughter and fun. Meanwhile, their caregiver was also getting a break, taking a nap, and doing all the other things they can’t do when they are home with their loved one.”
Although much of those comprehensive services are not possible right now, Clapp said the center is filling a huge need on-Island in supporting both older adults and their caregivers.
COVID has most definitely caused problems everywhere and for everyone. Caregivers are certainly going to be feeling the added stress. Being a caregiver is challenging enough under regular circumstances. But with all of the restrictions and problems that COVID has brought, it has caused caregivers of all types to feel stretched to their limits. We’re all ready for some sense of normalcy. To those of you who are caregivers, we thank you. https://AdvantageHomeCareMaine.com/
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