The stress of parent care in uncertain times

By Alyson Gourley Cramer

When the pandemic hit, Phyllis felt ready and prepared with a plan.

As one of the main caregivers of her 87-year old father Peter, Phyllis rallied her siblings to ensure that their father was looked after, with plans for grocery and special deliveries even when the rest of family had to stay home. The family make a genuine effort to connect with Peter, and each other more often virtually than they typically did in person. But after nearly a month in isolation and a terrible fall in his apartment, Phyllis realized the physical and mental toll that the pandemic was having on her elderly father was beyond what she could have prepared for.

After the fall, Phyllis and her husband welcomed Peter into their home. After three days, with a regular routine, healthy diet and a little exercise Peter was feeling stronger and had regained his sense of purpose and humour.  It was not without its challenges; however, it was important to support each other through this challenging time.

A senior speaks on the phoneNow, with Peter back at home living independently, the whole experience has prompted a Covid-19 phase 2 transition plan for him, and a longer-term care discussion with Phyllis’ extended family—a very difficult conversation, they hadn’t planned on having for some time.

For Rachael (name has been changed for privacy), the stress of not being able to physically provide care is compounded by the fact that her father Jack is currently in ICU at a hospital four provinces away from her. He’s in critical condition, and due to the pandemic the family is unable to visit. Last year, Rachael had been with her father supporting him through illness; however, now with COVID-19, this isn’t an option.

She says, discouraged, “even if I could fly to see him, I couldn’t be by his side.” Instead, she relies on the communication shared with her by the hospital—often inconsistent and incomplete—knowing it’s the best they can do given the circumstances. Rachael has to manage her desire to control the situation, and the fear that overcomes her regularly regarding her dad’s condition.

The stress of parent care is real, this can be amplified by people with parents in long term care. Like Rachael, they are also unable to visit and the fear of outbreaks in centres is real.

A recent StatsCan survey of Canadian caregivers showed that of the 3.8 million Canadians who were aged 45 or older (35%) and were providing informal care to a senior with a short- or long-term health condition[1].  When asked about the most negative aspect of caregiving, 17% reported that it was emotionally demanding; 12% said that because of caregiving, they did not have enough time for themselves or family; 10% said it created stress; and 7% reported fatigue[2]. Combined with the ever-changing circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic and the physical restrictions imposed because of it, the statistics relating to the stressful impact of caregiving elderly parents are certainly higher.

Although their situations vary, there are similarities in how Phyllis and Rachael are coping with the stress and uncertainly regarding the care of their loved ones. Both women lean on strong support networks to help them through the challenges, including friends to vent to and seek advice from, family who are also able to support the caregiving through visits, direct care and financial support, and a considerate workplace that is flexible. Both also cited relying on routine, walks (particularly in nature) and the ability to compartmentalize the situation—so they can mentally take a break from the caregiving stress and enjoy the other parts of their lives.

Because the only constant in this current pandemic situation for the foreseeable future is change, ensuring that our own physical and health is maintained is critical in supporting those we care for. Resilience is a key part of this, and each of us has our own methods for building it. If we find the supports and practices that work for us and our loved ones, managing the situations we all find ourselves in will be much more manageable.

For additional support, reach out to your provincial resources on caregiving, there’s a wealth of information and supports available across the provinces and territories including support groups.

Additional resources;
Tips for families and caregivers caring for those at high risk for complications from COVID-19
Tips for those at high risk of complications from COVID-19
Coping with Crisis
Guidebook for Wellbeing in Recovery

Editors note: Since the time of writing, Rachael’s father has passed away. We send our deepest condolences to Rachael and her family.


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