In August of 2020 – amid the height of senior care communities’ visitation restrictions – the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released its survey of COVID-19’s psychological and emotional impact. The findings discuss the challenges of balancing mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Survey findings reported that anxiety disorder symptoms were about three times those reported in the second quarter of 2019 (25.5% versus 8.1%), and depressive disorder was nearly four times that reported in Q2 2019 (24.3% versus 6.5%). The CDC also said 13.3% of respondents reported starting or increasing substance abuse (including drugs and alcohol).

The survey also found that unpaid adult caregivers had an even higher prevalence of emotional or behavioral health challenges. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “the caregiver’s burden is complex and complicated by multiple competing priorities. Because caregivers are often faced with multiple concurrent stressful events and extended unrelenting stress, they may experience negative health effects…”

Caregiving During Social Separation

How can families who are either managing caregiving duties or have a family member with dementia in a care facility be confident they are not among these statistics?

One of the best ways for families with elderly members in care communities is to become a vocal advocate for your senior –the squeaky wheel.

Routinely call and email for reports on the care of your loved one –including photos or audio reports from their room. If you are concerned that mom or dad may not be receiving adequate attention, technology such as the Facebook portal or Google’s Nest will give you a live view and opportunity to speak face-to-face.

Some families express concern that if they become overly vocal about their loved one’s care, it will cause friction and that ultimately their loved one will suffer for it. Now may be the time to bring in an outside professional.

Angel Companions caregivers are specifically trained to work with Alzheimer’s and dementia diagnosis and can provide you immediate feedback and peace of mind.

In-Home Support

For family members caring for a loved one while also remaining active in their community through work or other obligations, there may also be the concern of inadvertently exposing an elder loved one to the coronavirus.

A professional caregiver can reduce disease risk through stringent health protocols, including PPE, routine testing, and rigorous care requirements.

Caregivers are also trained to monitor medication use, or if an elder seems to be experiencing anxiety, depression, or increasing their use of alcohol or other substances.

Emotional Distress or Substance Use Red Flags

How do you know if someone is struggling? The following are indicators that something may be amiss; always seek professional medical help with your concerns:

· Do they seem anxious, short-tempered, mention digestive issues, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, restlessness, or headaches?
· Do they seem unhappy, listless, or just generally less interested in life or activities that once interested them?
· Has their mood suddenly changed – more emotional, overly “happy,” or withdrawn?
· Are they sleeping increasingly more, or less, than is typical for them?
· Have they recently gained or lost weight?
· Are they using alcohol or substances more often than in the past, or began a new behavior pattern?
· Do they express that they feel guilty, or in the case of a recent loss of life of someone close, that they are no longer needed or “worthless?”

The above signs can be subtle at first. Keep a log of what you notice in your loved one –or yourself –to help you and your doctor determine patterns and support intervention.  For support resources, call 1-800-273-TALK. If you have concerns about self-harm, please immediately call 911.