21 Nov Caregiver Connection: Caregiving in the Time of COVID
For Heather, caregiving has always been part of her personality. She previously worked with emotionally disturbed teens and also assisted those in need through a domestic violence hotline – in addition to also working in schools as an instructional aide for children with disabilities. It’s just always been her nature, so she naturally gravitated toward caregiving.
When Heather’s mom got sick with cancer, she helped her through hospice care and was inspired from the experience. Heather is also a yoga instructor and appreciates the “spiritual practice” it brings. She has always been very curious about end-of-life transition, both spiritually and philosophically, and what happens during that time. Watching her mom go through that first-hand was really fascinating to her.
Through the experience of caring for her mom, she became interested in hospice care but did not have the schooling required to become a hospice nurse. One of her friends who was working at With a Little Help mentioned that they were looking for caregivers. Heather was intrigued and pursued it – being a caregiver allowed her to engage in some level of hospice care and work with the elderly.
Heather spoke at length about the challenges of dealing with caregiving barriers due to COVID-19, and she’s done a lot to navigate these obstacles. At the beginning of the pandemic (when she was staying home more), she would cook and drop off meals on her clients’ porches. This allowed her to chat with them for a bit from a distance and still provide them with warm, healthy food. She could also report back to family members and relatives if she noticed an issue with a client such as, “they were a little wobbly or foggy that day” or “were sleeping and didn’t come to the door.” By making these quick deliveries, she could keep an eye on her clients and maintain connections with their families.
As a caregiver, Heather handles several other tasks, including setting up telehealth/virtual doctor appointments and assisting with FaceTime and Zoom calls. She also makes phone calls and manages bill paying, mailing, emailing, running errands, and communicating with family and other care managers. If a client has relatives out of town who can’t see their elderly loved one, she will help with things like writing emails, taking a photo and sending it to them, or forwarding important mail.
Heather emphasizes that in-person care is significantly more effective than virtual care as far as increasing the client’s energy and mood. She has noticed a decrease in cognition and spirit in her clients due to the pandemic. For Heather, the question is how to elevate their energy, keep them healthy, and lift their mood.
Heather tries to get her clients outside exercising and has one client who likes to exercise out on the patio at her adult family home. When allowed, Heather brings her dog to see some of her clients, and some even ask to see him. The dog’s activity causes momentum for movement, for example, with a client who won’t walk but is motivated to when he sees the dog or another client who doesn’t like to exercise but gets to see the dog when she’s completed her dumbbell curls. Exercise and animals are two things that nourish Heather, and she loves sharing that with her clients and seeing the joy that it brings.
When a local gym needed a SilverSneakers fitness class sub, she started instructing a weekly class for several months. Then, when the gym closed due to COVID, she began teaching classes via Zoom. Heather supports the SilverSneakers program because not only does it help to maintain income for instructors and gyms, but it inspires people to take care of themselves. She doesn’t understand why we wait until we are older to start taking care of our bodies and wishes that we could all have a program like this to encourage us to exercise. SilverSneakers offers no-cost fitness classes for people 65 or older through select Medicare plans.
Heather said it’s inspiring to see how the aging population has adapted to technology. She said the participants of her virtual classes are always signed in and ready to go before class starts, and she’s had as many as 15 attendees. They are a strong and devoted group of elders. She sees the positive impact that these classes have and says that they are happier and healthier because they get to have time to communicate with others and share things that are going on in their lives. She wishes that more elders were open-minded to technology. She sees that her elderly clients can feel very isolated and are experiencing increased depression, anxiety, and foggy cognition, and maybe being more open to other communication methods would help.
One of the things she loves about being a caregiver is the other exceptional caregivers she has met and worked with. She describes them as being “unbelievable in their graciousness and stamina,” and she has learned a lot from them. She describes caregiving as a “soul job” that is so important and requires so much energy and wonders how we can honor this work.
Heather juggles her roles as a yoga instructor with her flexible 2-3 hour caregiver shifts so she can have a schedule that fits around her kids, especially now that her kids are at home due to COVID-19.
When she’s not working (or practicing yoga), Heather manages a bustling household with three teenage boys, a terrier poodle named Bandit, a corn snake, and two rats. She has a lot of compassion and admiration for all essential workers who are putting in incredible hours and risking themselves to do their job. It’s not only personal care, but it’s hands-on work where the risk is heightened. She remarked that grocery store workers are also essential. “They are angels.”