A team of researchers from the National Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Family Support and the University Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh recently conducted a survey to identify the specific effects of the pandemic on families and family caregivers. The survey, which was conducted between April 15 and May 27, 2020, assessed the impacts of the pandemic on employment, financial well-being, social interactions, health behaviors, and physical and mental health. This report summarizes the results, specifically identifying differences in how the pandemic uniquely affected family caregivers compared to non-caregivers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive disruptions to society, with major impacts on employment, financial well-being and social relationships. The specific effects on family caregivers is unknown. Decades of research on family caregiving has shown that long-term and complex caregiving tasks often result in chronic stress for family caregivers which can lead to negative health outcomes for both the caregiver and care recipient. The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to add to the complexity of caregiving given the stay-at-home requirements, reduced access to health care services, and the vulnerability of individuals at higher risk for severe side effects.

The following are key highlights from the findings and implications for policy:

  • Family caregivers reported more negative effects from the pandemic than non-caregivers. They were more likely to report taking precautions and worries about getting themselves or the care recipient sick. They were also more likely than non-caregivers to be experiencing social isolation, anxiety and depression, fatigue, sleep disturbance, financial hardship and food insecurity.
  • Family caregivers report that the pandemic has increased their caregiving responsibilities, and that providing care is more emotionally, physically, and financially difficult. This was largely due to interrupted access to care [both for themselves and their care recipient(s)], and the resulting lifestyle adjustments have led to the reported increases in worries, fear, depression, and anxiety.
  • Female caregivers, minority caregivers, caregivers with less education, caregivers with lower income, younger caregivers, caregivers who care for persons with mental health/behavioral issues, and caregivers who live with the care recipient tended to report greater negative impacts of the pandemic.
  • During this public health crisis, family caregivers should receive increased support and assistance, and be specifically targeted in policy discussions and intervention/ program planning.

Tips for Caregivers During this Pandemic:

  • PLANNING FOR RESPITE – create backup plans for taking a break in the event your usual routines for respite are disrupted. Try to continue to prioritize taking care of yourself. Make sure your phone contacts are up to date so you can stay in touch by phone or text message (you will need people to talk and laugh with).
  • SUPPORTING EACH OTHER – caregiving is an isolating experience. Check in often on your family, friends and neighbors who are caring for a loved one. They may need help running routine errands, like the grocery store or pharmacy. Or they may just need someone to talk to.
  • HELP DEVISE A PLAN – for you both to stay healthy that includes exercise, nutrition, hydration and adequate sleep.
  • LIMIT NEWS INTAKE – about the coronavirus to an hour or two a day. Continuous news updates appear to cause more anxiety.
  • FOCUS ON JOY & GRATITUDE – provide hope and assurances that “this too shall pass” and “we are in this together.”
  • ENCOURAGE HOBBIES – such as sewing, gardening or puzzles, and find ways to ease stress such as meditation or prayer. Provide access to mental health support if needed.
  • CELEBRATE BIRTHDAYS – anniversaries, past achievements and other happy occasions or memories.