En español | As a live-in caregiver for my father, who was a veteran of WWII and the Korean War and developed Alzheimer's later in life, there were many challenges around providing hands-on care, managing his health care and obtaining home-based services. Fortunately, we found support from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Dad passed on two years ago, and I frequently reflect on how much more difficult it all would have been with the new obstacles created by the coronavirus. Veteran and military caregivers are fighting on the front lines of this pandemic in unprecedented ways. But AARP is here to offer guidance and assistance.
Challenge: Making connections
As military and veteran caregivers focus on care for their loved ones, they struggle with isolation, which can be detrimental to both their physical and mental health. Getting together with friends or attending caregiver support groups can be very helpful, but in-person connections are largely no longer possible due to the pandemic.
- AARP Family Caregivers Discussion Group: A place to connect, share practical tips, offer support and discuss family caregiving experiences with other caregivers.
- AARP Friendly Voice: Created to combat isolation, caregivers can sign up for friendly calls from trained volunteers for themselves and/or their loved ones.
Challenge: Help for in-home and distance caregivers
Many caregivers have cut back or completely canceled in-home help due to concerns about the health and safety of their loved ones. Adult day services and community centers are closed or operating on a scaled-back basis, limiting days and number of participants. Transportation services may not be available, or caregivers may curtail their use if they are not confident of safety precautions in vehicles. The more caregivers go it alone, the faster they can become overwhelmed and burned out. Caregivers whose loved ones live in facilities are also struggling with limited or no in-person visits and diminished ability to advocate for them.
- AARP Community Connections: Created in response to the pandemic, Community Connections provides a listing of local mutual aid groups — neighbors helping neighbors.
- Military Guide: AARP and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation created Supporting Military, Veteran and Family Caregivers During the Pandemic — a fact sheet with practical tips about how to update your caregiving plan, deal with medications, handle medical and tele-health visits, create regular social connections, and maintain personal safety and self-care. This fact sheet builds on another co-created tool: the Military Caregiving Guide for Veterans, Service Members and Their Families.
- Protect Nursing Home Residents: For those caring for veterans living in facilities, AARP provides up-to-date information on all the issues facing nursing homes today.
Challenge: Work-life balance
Not only are military and veteran caregivers doing more hands-on caregiving, many are also working paid jobs at home due to the pandemic. For some, their time is stretched even thinner as they try to keep their children on-task with e-learning. Caring intensely for multiple people while working exacerbates stress levels quickly.
- Supporting Military and Veteran Caregivers in the Workplace: This toolkit provides guidance to help employers better understand the unique challenges facing caregivers in the workplace.
Concerns about the uncertainty of the pandemic and keeping loved ones and themselves safe and healthy are common for everyone these days. But for caregivers, the pressure to protect loved ones is particularly intense, as our veterans and wounded military service members are more susceptible to becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.
As caregivers struggle to meet the needs of service members — and all family members — while dealing with fewer caregiver supports, self-care moves even further down the list. The sum of all of these issues can lead to emotional and physical exhaustion, disturbed sleep, feelings of negativity, apathy and hopelessness — a path to caregiver burnout.
- Mental Health Center: AARP's mental health resource page was created to provide advice and guidance to caregivers and others seeking additional help during these tough times.
As the pandemic unfolds, AARP will continue to work hard to deliver free resources and other solutions at aarp.org/veterans. Thank you to all of you who are staying the course as you continue to care for our veterans and military service members. We salute you!
Amy Goyer is AARP's family and caregiving expert and author of Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving . Connect with Amy on amygoyer.com, Facebook, Twitter, in AARP's Online Community and in the AARP Facebook Family Caregivers Group.