It happens to millions of folks every year. You've saved your money, worked hard, gotten your kids out of the house. And then just as you're ready to retire, you take on another full-time job instead... caring for mom or dad.
If this has happened to you, you're far from alone. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 40 million adults act as unpaid caregivers for adults 65 and older. The vast majority are people taking care of a parent.
Caregiving in regular times is hard enough. But add in extra stress from the current coronavirus crisis, and it can feel impossible.
Last week, our medical researcher Amanda Cuocci, had a video call with news anchor Jessica Stone to discuss some of the most common questions facing caregivers right now. We wanted to share more in-depth answers here for our readers today.
How much food and supplies should you be making sure your parents have? Just enough for the week? Enough for a prolonged quarantine?
The problem we're facing is that we just don't know how long we'll be stuck inside. It could be a few more weeks or even longer. Schools have shut down for the rest of the semester. Child care here in Maryland shut down recently. All non-essential businesses have been closed. It varies by state – we're seeing prolonged shutdowns in California and New York, for starters.
A good idea is to have about one to two weeks' worth of food and necessities ready. Refill prescriptions early if you can. It's a good idea to get a few staples that will last longer too, like canned foods and foods you can freeze (like meats, bread, etc.).
Most important, plan your trips. Limit the number of stores and stick to essentials. It's important, especially for seniors and those with underlying conditions (like heart conditions and diabetes), to stay home.
But what if you can't be there to deliver groceries for your parent or loved one? You can try a delivery service (like Amazon Fresh or Instacart). Some local groups also have arranged help directories – you can call in and ask for someone to get you some food, and they'll send a volunteer to go get it for you. Try calling your parent's place of worship or local clubs to see if they have anything like that set up.
How careful do you need to be with cleaning and disinfecting yourself and everything you touch?
Amanda said it well in the video – we don't know just how long this virus can survive on different surfaces, so don't be afraid to go overboard. Wearing gloves, avoiding contact with other people, and disinfecting any and all shared surfaces is critical. Think about anything you might touch – thermostat, light switches, doorknobs, etc.
It's also a good idea to clean everything you bring home from the store – wash or wipe it down with a Clorox wipe. Put the bags in the trash immediately and wash your hands thoroughly. Similarly, if your parent gets anything delivered, have the delivery person leave everything on the porch. Bring the items in and disinfect right away. We've even seen some reports saying to leave the open cardboard box on the porch, so you don't risk bringing anything in the house from that.
How can we keep in touch with our parents and how do we keep them active?
As we've written before, staying active is a primary concern right now. You want to keep moving and try and get some sun every day. You can still go for walks as long as you practice distancing – staying six feet away from other people.
Gardening is another great activity. And if your parent has access, the YMCA released free online video classes, with a few aimed at seniors.
Technology can be a problem, so if you can't reach your loved one by methods like Skype or e-mail, make it a priority to call. Call often and check in. See if they have friends and family to call as well. Having a list of folks to chat with each day will help combat the feelings of loneliness and depression.
How do you take care of yourself as a caregiver?
Longtime readers know we've written about caregiver stress before. It's critically important to care for yourself before you can care for others.
If you live with your parent, you might feel that stress more than others. Try to make a schedule and stick to it... And add yourself on there as a priority. Practicing meditation or going for a walk or run alone are good ways to calm your stress levels and boost your serotonin (which makes you feel happy and relaxed).
And ask for support. Friends, family members, and neighbors can all listen and help you with your stress and anxiety. If you need extra support, here are some resources we recommend:
- A list of the best online therapy services available
- Many in-person counseling groups now offer online services. Psychology Today has a directory of providers.
- The Senior's Choice network lists providers for in-home services
Caregivers are the unsung heroes in daily life. And in times of crisis, it's important to know what to do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
We want to hear from you, too – let us know how you're doing during this crisis. Write to us at [email protected].
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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
March 31, 202