Emotional Effects of Caring for An Elderly Parent

The emotional effects of caring for an elderly parent can feel like a heart-wrenching tug of war between caregiving and self-preservation. COVID-19 continues to change human interactions. Families are are struggling to survive.

Caregiver stress levels driven by feelings of isolation and depression have risen to new heights. COVID-19 has emphasized the lesson of human connectedness for interaction, support, and survival that has always existed in caregiving relationships. Today gaps in available services and resources for caregivers are more apparent due to fear of acquiring the virus

Worry About COVID Has Increased Pressures For Family Caregivers

Fear of COVID-19 has increased the emotional effects of caring for an elderly parent. Services like day care programs, in-home caregivers, and the availability of care communities as an option for care were always assumed to be available.

The virus has closed down senior care adult day programs. Companies providing in-home caregivers are struggling. Assisted living communities, memory care, and nursing homes have become places where the virus can spread rapidly. As a result, adult children have removed elderly parents living in care communities to care for them at home.

Other family members no longer able to care for elderly parents or spouses have been delayed in moving a loved one to a care community because of lockdowns. Concern for the elderly, many of whom have multiple chronic conditions, remain high.

This lack of access to previously available services has exacerbated the emotional effects of caring for an elderly parent. Concern over acquiring or spreading COVID-19 has led to increased isolation for families caring for elderly parents in the home.

Healthcare Employees Are Leaving the Care Industry

Turnover in the healthcare industry for caregivers has always been high. Today, long time employees are leaving in droves over concern about COVID-19. The high level of human contact and the possibility of acquiring the virus or transmitting the virus to highly susceptible loved ones is too great a risk for some professional caregivers.

Communities large and small have been affected by employees becoming sick and some dying. Being a caregiver comes with the added stress of caring for the elderly who have health issues. Clients utilizing healthcare services may be viewed by care staff as having problematic behaviors because of not feeling well.

Elderly caregiver stress at previous high levels has also increased due to the added pressures of navigating a COVID-19 world. Even with precautionary measures in place, working in a healthcare environment for those who are unable to work at home may be a risky proposition.

Caregiving Challenges Rise With Disease Severity

Adult children caregivers who previously had outside support may now be alone in caring for an elderly parent. The difficulties of caregiving for an elder who has multiple health complications can be time-consuming and frustrating. Elderly parents who require ongoing medical care may have experienced delayed care because of medical office closings or limited access.

Telehealth appointments have made medical care available but may not be ideal for the elderly with multiple and severe chronic diseases. Family caregivers may have delayed their medical care for many of the same reasons. Routine and ongoing maintenance healthcare for the elderly is critical to prevent increased illness episodes and the risks of hospitalization or nursing home stay.

Interacting with Elderly Parents is Like a Watching a Petri Dish Experiment

Coping with caring for elderly parents in situations where elderly parents live alone or with adult children has become like a petri dish experiment. Instead of visiting a parent, adult children caregivers may be leaving groceries at the front door and using face time to communicate.

Multigenerational families living in the same home are more concerned about adults and children’s coming and goings because of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.  Worry may exist about young children returning to in-person classes and bringing illness home. The emotional effects of caring for elderly parents cross all family generations.

Elderly Parents Exhibit Increased Behaviors

The added stress of trying to protect elders from COVID-19 has resulted in visible signs of wear and tear on the emotions and physical health of family caregivers. Adult children and spousal caregivers express concerns about the increased behaviors of elderly parents. Anger, frustration, increased mental health behaviors, more rapidly advancing memory loss, and other problems are mentioned by caregivers in support groups.

At the same time, caregivers recognize that the emotional effects of caring for elderly parents is taking a toll on their mood and behaviors. Caregivers feel guilty about feeling angry or being impatient.  Many admit that elderly parents are doing the best they can but that one stressor adds to the next and becomes overwhelming.

Behaviors of elderly parents and spouses needing care rise in severity as their caregivers’ stress come out in daily interactions. A direct correlation exists between responses and reactions between elderly parents and caregivers.

Caregivers Seek Online Help

One positive aspect of the stresses and complications of COVID-19 has been an increase by caregivers in seeking help. Online support groups, courses, and programs have delivered positive results for caregivers feeling isolated and alone.

The Internet has made access to caregiver programs more accessible for all caregivers, including those living in rural areas with a lack of available service programs. Caregivers are finding valuable information on caregiving websites in online caregiving libraries and caregiving blogs.

Working at Home and Caring for Elderly Parents

Another positive aspect of COVID-19 is an increase in society and workplace awareness of caregiving issues. COVID-19 has increased the number of employees able to work at home. For these employees, some of whom live with or have elderly parents living with them, this new work-life situation poses complications.

Working at home and being immediately accessible to elderly parents who may heed care has increased the emotional effects and pressures of caring for elderly parents. Caregivers are intermingling remote work with juggling caregiving tasks.

Going to the office between 8 am and 5 pm may mean going down the basement, working in a bedroom or another room of the house with intermittent interruptions that extend the workday into the evening. On the other hand, being at home makes it easier for caregivers to monitor elderly parents’ care. Medical appointments may become a virtual event instead of taking elderly parents into medical offices.

Human Resource Challenges For Elder Care Programs

Human resource departments are gaining awareness of the number of employees who are caring for elderly parents. While corporations have family care benefits, few offer elder care programs for working caregivers. Many elder care programs are available online and are accessible 24/7. Other programs may be specially designed and provided in a virtual online environment.

Long gone are the days when the only option for delivering elder care programs was on-site and live. Technology has advanced warp speed as a result of COCID-19. Businesses and consumers realize the benefits of video calls and the personal benefits of working at home minus long commutes.

Giving Up Your Life to Care for Elderly Parents

Self-care for caregivers remains even more important in remote work situations. Time pressures and caregiving tasks quickly eat up a 24 hour day. COVID has made it more difficult, in some cases, to receive help from other family members or outside caregivers.

Combined work-family schedules and extended days makes the act of asking for help by caregivers more critical. Wilson’s podcast called Giving Up Your Life to Care for Elderly Parents features an interview with Dr. Vanessa Bohns from the Department of Organizational Behavior at Cornell University. Bohns share research relevant to caregivers about asking for help without feeling guilty, while Wilson talks about finding a balance between self-care and caring for elderly parents.

Creating a Lifeline

Surviving the emotional effects of caring for an elderly parent involve creating a caregiving skills survival toolkit that includes creating a lifeline. The stress of caregiving raises the ante on maintaining emotional balance in all areas of life.

Choices, attitudes, and words have power. Every action that a caregiver takes has a corresponding reaction. By learning to maintain emotional balance, the stress of managing a caregiving situation can become more manageable.

Attending an online support group can help caregivers create a lifeline to other caregivers in similar situations. Taking an online caregiver course can close skill gaps that result in worry about doing the wrong thing that harms an elderly parent. Scheduling a weekly call with a family member or friend may be the bright spot in a crazy week.

Gaining skills and closing knowledge gaps by creating lifelines of connection with other caregivers—despite the self-isolation posed by COVID019—is the way for caregivers to survive the emotional effects of caring for an elderly parent.


Interested in help for caregivers? Listen to Pamela’s weekly radio show The Caring Generation

About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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