November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of the more than 40 million people in the United States who serve as unpaid caregivers to family, friends, and neighbors. Caregivers work long days and spend countless hours to meet and anticipate the needs of their loved ones, be they their children, spouse, or friend. It has been a very long year since March 2020 since Governor Wolf closed schools and employers who were non-essential. We have been in our homes in many cases for months at a time with minimal contact with the “outside” world. Even now, our fear of the Delta variant has kept many of us secluded in our homes. So, it is normal for a caregiver to feel isolated and stressed but COVID 19 certainly aggravated these feelings. Days usually spent at school were now spent at home with Mom or Dad as the teacher and caregiver. We all know a caregiver and probably were one the past months.
In a University of Connecticut study of 400 caregivers, 225 of whom had autism and other developmental disabilities and the remainder had typically developing children, both groups said their worries had increased and their ability to participate in self-care activities decreased due to the pandemic. Caregivers of typical children reported struggling with their inability to see family or friends. By contrast, those with children with developmental disabilities cited much greater caregiving challenges, as well as depression and anxiety. They were more likely to report having less support for their child’s educational goals, difficulty accessing childcare, loss of employment or reduced work hours as well as increased financial strain.
So, what should we as caregivers or friends of caregivers do?
The first step in being a good caregiver is to TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! You need to do this so you can take better care of those you assist and support. Try to maintain healthy routines. Do simple activities that help you keep calm. Practice deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, set aside time to exercise. Share your emotions with a family member or friend. You don’t have to do this on your own.
If you are a friend of a caregiver, reach out to her/him. A simple phone call, an offer to watch the child so Mom or Dad can take a break, or a “dinner to go” can make a difference.
Another consideration is to look to virtual learning. Autism Speaks has created a new Caregiver Quick Tips, a video training series to help caregivers support their child’s development in the home. This can be found on the Autism Speaks YouTube channel. There are many resources on support for caregivers on YouTube as well.
Join me in recognizing these extraordinary Moms and Dads, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors for their faithfulness and generosity. That IS what America is all about!
Yes, all of us are hoping and praying that COVID 19 is on the downswing and the many stressors of caregiving might be greatly relieved in the weeks to come.