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Family caregivers getting through the pandemic


Ethnic Media Services, Black Voice News, St. Paul’s AME Baptist Church-San Bernardino and the California Department of Aging recently held an online briefing discussing the role of family caregivers during the public health emergency that is the covid pandemic.

“The majority of care is done by family members and they’re almost invisible,” said Dr. Donna Benton, research associate professor of Gerontology at USC. She stressed that some of the persons who should be considered ‘essential workers’ – the many family caregivers who work in their elder’s homes – have never received personal protective equipment (PPE), nor were they prioritized for early covid vaccines, as many didn’t work in hospitals and were under 55.

“It was difficult for caregivers to keep their relatives safe,” she said. “Now they can get vaccines and masks and what that means for caregivers is now they are able to go to grocery stores and feel that they can’t infect their elders.”

Acknowledging that the pandemic has had everyone on pins and needles for the past two years, Benton noted that additional stress happens when one is really trying to keep an elderly loved one safe. Those stress levels can be heightened.

“Caregivers can experience increased feelings of being socially isolated,” Benton said, explaining that home visits by other friends and family are off limits in most cases. And not every home has the bandwidth to make virtual doctor visits.

“We have to have access to testing,” she added. “We have to get our annual flu shot on top of all that. Then we never had a problem getting baby wipes before, but now…”

There are more than 4.5 million caregivers in the state of California who should be considered frontline workers, according to Benton. She said they need to be recognized for their service and they need help.

“I don’t think we have enough community health workers who can go door to door,” she said, noting that it can be difficult to get someone with dementia or parkensons dressed, in the car and to the doctors for a test or a shot.

Ruth Rebert cares for her husband, who has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma and has taken chemotherapy.

“The pandemic has been a challenge for me and for my husband.” she said. “Because of his ailment, he cannot afford to get a cold,” Rebert is thankful that their health insurance allowed for some “non medical” assistance, since she can’t ignore the household duties while caring for her spouse.

“Recognition is great, but sometimes you just need a break,” she said.” “I have a housekeeper who comes in. More insurance companies need to focus on that.”

Rebert bluntly talks to her friends about vaccine hesitancy.

We all want this to be over, but it won’t be over soon unless we get vaccinated,” she said. “I don’t try to convince them, I just say ‘you have two choices – you can choose to have this vaccine in your veins, or you can choose to have formaldehyde in your veins.”

Elder Noella Buchannan is a retired preacher who started caregiving almost 35 years ago with her mother-in-law. Today she is primarily responsible for a cousin over 100 years of age. She recommends being honest with elders who are vaccine hesitant.

“Many of us watch over individuals who have lived through a time when we could not trust,” Buchanan said.

“Most of our elderply people are people of faith,” she said. “They believe their faith will carry them through. I also believe that a way has been made for us. God has opened up a way. A door has been opened up and we need to go through that door.”