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How to Have Important Conversations About Family Caregiving

John Schall

CEO, Caregiver Action Network

Currently, caregiving for a family member means creating opportunities for coronavirus exposure. Talking about the risk tolerance of yourself, your family members, and your loved one is more important now than ever before.

Everyone has a different level of risk that they’re comfortable with. Some are completely comfortable jumping from an airplane at 10,000 feet. Others wouldn’t dream of singing karaoke among friends. The coronavirus pandemic has transformed everyday tasks and errands into potentially dangerous activities. For many Americans caring for a loved one, it has left their caregiving in crisis.

Before the pandemic, family caregivers were already at higher risk for a host of physical and mental health conditions, such as burnout, depression, and feelings of isolation. And now there’s COVID. How can family caregivers weigh the necessity of caring for a loved one while caring for themselves, and still take reasonable precautions to avoid COVID?

An important part of caregiving is finding balance. So how can caregivers balance caring for themselves and their loved one in a pandemic? You need to consider priorities. Is it more important to defend against you or your loved one contracting the coronavirus, even if being apart raises the risk of damaging emotional and mental well-being? 

During the time of COVID-19, caregivers are often finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.

Risk tolerance

Caregiving is often a family affair, but families are made up of individuals, and everyone has their own level of risk tolerance to consider. Something that works for you may not work for someone else. Maybe you’re not comfortable going to visit grandma in her nursing home even though she’s lonely. Perhaps your brother wants to help take care of your mother who still lives alone, but he’s coming from a hot spot that has had a recent surge in coronavirus cases. These are the conversations you need to have together, whether virtually or in-person.

Of course, your loved one should have a say in the situation, too. You know your loved one better than anyone else. Talk to them. Find out what makes them uncomfortable and how much risk they’re willing to accept. Moreover, find out how much risk they’re willing to let you take in order to care for them. They may not like the thought of you putting yourself at risk to care for them. They want to protect you just as much as you want to protect them.

Caregiving, even in the best of times, is stressful and can profoundly change the dynamics within any family. This is an inescapable truth. Caregiving during a worldwide pandemic has only added to the already numerous challenges. 

When considering risk during this pandemic with your family, it’s important to remember that you all have the same goal — to keep everyone as safe as possible while caring for and protecting your loved one.

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