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The call didn't surprise her but was a shock anyway. The adult day care where Lisa's husband, Stan, went four days a week for support services for his moderate frontotemporal lobe dementia would close for the next month because of the spread of coronavirus.
He would now be constantly at home, sitting in the living room with TV blaring and calling out for Lisa to come sit next to him or bring him something to drink or get him a sweater. She would no longer have any breaks during the day to talk with friends or take a walk. She could rest only if he rested, and his napping was erratic.
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She had felt stifled before, robbed of the relaxed lifestyle she'd hoped for during her retirement, but at least the adult day care had provided her with respite. Now she felt completely trapped.
Couldn't Lisa hire home health companions to sit with Stan so she could have some time for herself? If they brought germs into the house that made him ill, her guilt would be too much to bear. Perhaps she should ask their adult children to relieve her. But the thought of interfering with their already-strained lives until the adult day care reopened made her feel bad, too. Besides, Stan wanted only her — constantly.
As national, state and local officials have increasingly urged Americans to shelter in place, more family caregivers like Lisa have lost essential caregiving support services. As a result, what was difficult but manageable caregiving has become all-consuming.
Unfortunately, no immediate fixes are in sight, only the ardent hope that the spread of the virus will be contained or there will be a vaccine or scientific breakthrough so life can go back to normal. Until then, these caregivers are feeling more hemmed in and stressed out than ever before.
What steps can family caregivers take to better cope when they are feeling stressed and isolated? Here are some ideas.
Don't play the shame game
Even in the most easygoing relationships, there is a balance between the small frictions of everyday life, such as forgotten chores and minor disagreements, and more upbeat instances, including unexpected hugs and compliments for a good meal.
But when spouses have enforced round-the-clock together time — especially when one requires extra care and patience — that balance often tips and they are bothered more by the usual hassles and silly misunderstandings.
Being joined at the hip would cause almost anyone discomfort. Beating themselves up for feeling irritable — as caregivers sometimes do — is not only unfair, it is unhelpful.