I read startling statistics from the CDC this past week related to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on our mental health. While sifting through the statistics of the numbers of people whose mental health is suffering, I read that 30.7 % of surveyed unpaid caregivers to adults said they had seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before the June 2020 survey. The numbers are shocking, considering the CDC also reports that 54% of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition.
In my role as Executive Director at the Windward Foundation and years working directly with caregivers, I am empathetic to the struggles caregivers experience, and statistics like these keep me up at night. The impacts of social isolation, lack of exercise, overall stress, and the feeling of hopefulness during quarantine are just some of the issues that we should keep top of mind.
If you have lived with a person with Alzheimer’s disease, you understand that depression is widespread for the person living with the disease. In the beginning, my Dad (like most) knew what his diagnosis meant and not only became very depressed but multiple times a day, he would tell us that he just wanted to “end it.” Our family paid close attention to my Dad’s mental health, but we didn’t always closely watch my Mom. That is why my brother Sean McDermott and I decided to focus our impact on the unpaid family caregiver. Through our experiences, we saw a gaping hole in the focus of the health and well being of the unpaid family caregivers to those with Alzheimer’s, especially as many are senior citizens.
Like most organizations that serve our aging populations, we have learned to be very creative in our efforts to continue to make an impact virtually. The one thing we want to make sure we do is listen to our community and never be afraid to ask them what they need. To help us better understand most recently, we surveyed our community to adjust our programming to serve their needs best. We heard back from over 230 people caring for a loved one at home with Alzheimer’s, and this is what we learned:
- 92% of caregivers feel very overwhelmed due to social isolation
- 95% of caregivers are finding it very difficult to exercise because they are fearful of COVID-19
- 72% of caregivers are postponing their routine doctor appointments due to the logistics of leaving their loved one at home
- 86% of caregivers have found technology beneficial during the pandemic
- 36% of caregivers have tried teletherapy or telemedicine
- 17% of caregivers are interested in in-person social gatherings (the survey was early August 2020)
- 9% of caregivers are interested in virtual educational programs
One of the most positive things that have come out of COVID on the medical front is virtual doctor and therapy visits, both covered by Medicare. Amanda LaRose, Owner, and Therapist at We Care Management, says that when it comes to unpaid family caregivers’ mental health, “society needs to pay more attention to it. I have found in work I do with caregivers that when their mental health is manageable, they experience fewer feelings of guilt, regret, stress, helplessness, and frustration. During this time, the support Mental Health Therapists have been able to provide virtually has made a significant positive impact on unpaid family caregivers’ mental health.”
We should all be very concerned about our seniors, especially those isolated at home and caring for a person with Alzheimer’s. Let’s band together as a community with our families to ensure that our unpaid caregivers find joy in their day-to-day lives. We can do that by making sure we are very intentional about calling and checking on them. Encouraging them to exercise, even if it is only walking in place inside the home, and social activities like family Zoom meetings can help them feel more connected. If you have a chance to be an accountability partner, schedule short social distance walks. Look for signs of depression and encourage your loved one to reach out to a support group, doctor, or therapist to help with their feelings.