Emotional Effects of Caring for An Elderly Parent

by | | Family Relationships & Conflict

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 struggling to survive as a result of the economic effects of lockdowns and social isolation.

Why is Being a Caregiver So Emotional?

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, resources for caregivers, and making decisions for aging parents are more notable due to fear of acquiring or transmitting the virus. Some elderly and their caregivers are still following strict social distancing recommendations.

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 daycare 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 to hire and retain staff. 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.

The timing of re-opening for many senior services remains to be confirmed. Many remain operational through virtual services, pick-up options, or limited in-person appointments.

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, limitations on hiring moving companies, and other constraints. Concern for the elderly and all persons with multiple chronic conditions will 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 ongoing isolation for families caring for elderly parents in the home.

Healthcare Employees Are Leaving the Care Industry

healthcare workers and COVIDTurnover in the healthcare industry for caregivers has always been high due to low pay, lack of training, and the stress related to caregiving. Today, long-time employees are leaving in droves over concern about acquiring 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.

Healthcare communities large and small have been affected by employees becoming sick and or dying. Being a caregiver involves caring for the elderly who have health issues including dementia. When healthcare staff lacks training, and families are unable to visit, problematic behaviors may result in a lack of attention or poor care.

The stress experienced by healthcare workers has increased due to the added pressures of navigating a COVID-19 world and the additional precautions required. Even with precautionary measures in place, working in a healthcare environment is a risky proposition for care staff who may be in poor health.

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 of healthcare for the elderly is critical to prevent increased illness episodes and the risks of hospitalization or nursing home stay.

Emotional Effects of Caring for Elderly Parents

caregiver emotionsCoping with caring for elderly parents in situations where elderly parents live alone or with adult children can be an unpredictable situation. Instead of visiting a parent, adult children caregivers may be leaving groceries at the front door and using face time to communicate due to COVID concerns.

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 may cross all family generations.

Worry about COVID has become tiresome for many who want to return to normal routines where families and people gather. Isolation and fear about being in contact with others, especially for caregivers of aging parents may remain for the unforeseeable future. Statistics about COVID deaths confirm that elderly diagnosed with dementia and chronic diseases are the most susceptible.

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

working caregiversAnother 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 eldercare programs for working caregivers. Many eldercare 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 who can become supporting friends in time of need. 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 COVID-19—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

© 2022. Pamela D Wilson, All Rights Reserved.

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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