My Perspective as a First Year MSW Working in the Field of Aging
By Tanner Meyer, MSW ‘21
When applying to the Brown School, my personal statement promised that I would pursue a career in LatinX health care. This is still my goal, though I have paired it with another: to work with aging populations. Due to a Master’s Research Fellowship position with the Friedman Center for Aging and an unexpected practicum position at Dolan Memory Care Homes, these academic opportunities have transformed my fondness for older adults into a deep passion for the prosperity of and advocacy for geriatric populations.
During my time in this field, one area I have grown to appreciate is care giving. While working with adults in full-time care communities, I have listened to their loved ones respond to us professional caretakers gratefully, assuring us that the time they spent caring for their loved one alone was more taxing than they would like to admit. With tears in their eyes, I see the guilt and gratitude—guilt that they could not care for their mother or father or spouse, and instead, moved them into a long-term care facility; and, gratitude that their loved one is in gentle, caring hands.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately “16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.” This statistic accounts for the informal caregivers, the sons, daughters, and spouses of those with dementia diagnoses, who likely maintain a job and family outside of their care giving roles. This statistic does not account for the caregivers of other older adults who receive informal full-time care for conditions other than dementia, like Down Syndrome.
Think about this number in relation to the number of unpaid hours that these caregivers work. Care giving is a twenty-four-hour job that can often feel thankless. Therefore, too often, even in the professional world, there is caregiver burnout.
This led me to think about the formal and informal caregivers who are caring for someone during this COVID-19 pandemic. Social isolation is a concern for many. Especially when caring for those with dementia, a caregiver’s time may be completely devoted to this person, and they often have to sacrifice time outside of the house with loved ones, or even time alone, in order to ensure the well-being of the person for whom they provide care.
But now, with shelter in place orders, the anxiety and stress of care giving is skyrocketing. Not only are caregivers increasingly isolated from the outside world, they now have the heightened fear of transmitting the Coronavirus to their care recipient. In communities like Dolan Memory Care Homes, Care Partners and social workers are stationed at one home, rather than traveling between the 13 homes—so as not to spread potential infections—and are to carry on life as usual inside, while a pandemic spreads panic and illness outside.
People living with or working with older adults have to be more cognizant of their care practices because older adults are considered more vulnerable to the Coronavirus. With age comes a weakening of the immune system and other chronic health conditions that increase the complications of COVID-19. Caregivers have been told repeatedly how to keep those they care for safe during this time: social distance, wash hands for at least 20 seconds, clean household surfaces, etc. But no one is telling caregivers how to care for themselves.
To professional caregivers: You give up time with your own family to care for the family of strangers. You ease their fears and the anxiety that comes from lack of control over the state of their loved one.
To caregivers of a loved one: Your hours of unpaid labor do not go unnoticed. Your efforts and sacrifices are seen. Know that you are not only essential during a pandemic, but always, and that the work you do is invaluable. Prioritize rest and nutrition for yourself, for sleep and adequate meals are what will fuel your body for the taxing hours ahead. Take intermittent moments during a care recipients’ meal or nap to take a breath, remind yourself that we thank you for your courage, and that your health matters just as much as the person you care for.
Right now, more than ever, it is essential for caregivers—whether professional or not—to care for their own minds and bodies.
To readers: if you know someone care giving, reach out to them, offer to run an essential errand they may need accomplished, and offer up a time to catch up during a virtual social hour.
These are stressful and unprecedented times we are living in and coping with. Not only for the safety of our vulnerable populations, but for the well-being of our communities looking forward, caregivers are critical to maintaining the health and well-being of so many people.
Compilation of resources for caregivers: