Dear Carol: I’ve been caring for my mother in my home for several years. Before COVID-19, I was able to get some relief from 24/7 care because she attended an adult day facility three days a week, which she loved. I hired an in-home caregiver for help with showers, but the rest was up to me. My two siblings haven’t had any interest in helping out, but I made it work.
Now, COVID-19 has changed everything. The day services shut down so Mom can’t go out. The in-home care service has been helpful, but they are low on staff. I’ve asked my siblings to isolate and wear masks if they need to go out so that they can safely sit with Mom while I get a break. They work from home and live close, but they continue to say no. My mission is to give Mom the best life she can have, and I won’t throw that away now, but I really need some relief. How do I get through to my family or find other help? — KS.
Dear KS: You are speaking for many family caregivers during COVID-19 who have found themselves alone and left with few choices for respite. Unfortunately, too, your siblings mirror many other families by denying to themselves that what you do is extraordinary, so they don’t feel compelled to accommodate your need for a break.
Only you can decide if pushing your family harder by perhaps having a virtual family meeting, maybe with a mediator such as a geriatric care manager to modify the family dynamic, is worth the extra time and stress. Some caregivers will keep pushing, hoping for change, but others find the whole exchange emotionally exhausting and not worth the trouble. They’ve already been turned down too many times.
Your situation was bad enough before this pandemic but like most other caregiving situations, every decision has only gotten harder.
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Do you have any friends who work from home or otherwise isolate who would be willing to give you an occasional short break? For now, a break may only mean the ability for you to go into another room while they entertain your mom, or even just visiting with them, but it would be something. Some time with a friend might help you feel less isolated. If this friend can take some time with your mom, so much the better.
You mentioned that in-home care availability is still uncertain. Most agencies are trying to hire more caregivers, but if this agency continues to be shorthanded, could you find a backup agency to use on alternate days? That's an unconventional strategy but might be worth looking into.
I recently spoke with a dear friend in a situation similar to yours, KS, and I felt helpless in that I can’t provide a strategy to fix her situation any more than I can for you. COVID-19 has created havoc in the already stressed caregiver world. I hope that knowing you aren’t alone will help just a little.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.