Blaise Morrison, an assistant professor in the Division of Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling, said the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a heightened sense of awareness and anxiety for caregivers, no matter the medical condition at hand.
“The caregiver is in a situation of having to play advocate to try and help get the individuals needed resources,” Morrison said. “They’re probably going to be dealing with the added emotional and psychological stress that comes with this situation.”
Morrison stressed that medical conditions could get worse and that there are myriad issues caregivers and for those receiving care.
“When you have physician offices, health care settings or rehabilitation centers that are not open and not providing medical services that are urgent or critical, then you have a lot more stress happening in the household,” Morrison explained. He said this could lead to conditions not being managed in the way that they otherwise would be, which can lead to feelings of stress, frustration, or even secondary emotional/psychological problems.
Morrison also said socio-economic status plays a role in caregiving during the pandemic, as those who have fewer resources might not have an established physician, health insurance, or may have been laid off because of the pandemic. For example, the growing use of telehealth options could be inaccessible for those who don’t have access to the internet.
“This isn’t a level playing field,” Morrison said. “People who are having the most troubles are lower income families that just don’t have the resources,” Morrison said.
Morrison, who approaches caregiving from a disability rights perspective, explained that the pandemic has brought up concerns regarding availability of medical equipment, such as ventilators, hospital beds, and rationing of other essential medical items. And this can disproportionately affect people with disabilities.
“Because of limited medical supplies and services, people with disabilities may not have access to the resources they need during the pandemic,” Morrison said. The lack of resources can have implications for caregivers as well as for those receiving care.
To combat some of these issues, Morrison said caregivers could benefit from organizing care at home by using calendars, setting reminders, and establishing a routine. He also added that caregivers often benefit from social support; he recommended caregivers find virtual support groups in light of social distancing restrictions due to the pandemic. For Morrison, these recommendations are important especially, as some families may no longer be receiving non-essential home health care and will be taking on greater caregiving responsibilities.
“Caregivers need that social support so much,” Morrison said. “The pandemic has made that much more difficult; it’s not that easy to reach out to deal with the mental and physical stress of caregiving.” He said there are resources for geriatric caregivers during the pandemic that provide assistance for virtual tools.
No matter the medical need, Morrison said caregivers should remember to care for themselves, and he recommends scheduling in time for self-care activities, such as yoga, mindfulness, or exercise.
“It’s so easy to fill up your week with the things that are needed to deal with COVID-19,” Morrison said. “Self-care can easily get pushed out.”
Morrison said the pandemic has led to heightened concern and anxiety about the virus; for older caregivers who find themselves in a higher-risk category, self-care is particularly important.
“There’s fear that their life, as well as their loved one’s life, is on the line if they get sick,” Morrison said. “There’s an added layer of stress for the caregiver, because they have to take precautions for their own well-being, in addition to playing security guard for their loved one.”
Morrison also recommended caregivers stay informed about guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Morrison, PhD, CRC, LPC, is also an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. U.S. News ranked the rehabilitation counseling master’s program as #9 in the country in spring 2019.