The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on older people and their families. While family caregivers provide the bulk of care for people over 65 and people with disabilities, much of the scholarly work has focused on the psychological and physical impacts of social isolation on older people. In this study, we focus on concerns and unexpected benefits of family caregivers during COVID-19. This study examined the following questions: (1) What are the greatest concerns of family caregivers during this pandemic? (2) What do family caregivers consider to be the benefits of caregiving for adults over age 65 or adults with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic?
We conducted semi-structured interviews with 52 family caregivers who cared for adults over age 65 or adults with disabilities during COVID-19 over a video platform. Participants could be caring for relatives living in their own home, in the caregiver’s home or in a long-term care facility. We asked questions regarding the types of care they had provided before and during COVID-19, with questions about social distancing regulations and other restrictions, as well as methods they have used to overcome caregiving challenges since March of 2020. Data was collected from May to September of 2020. We conducted a thematic inductive analysis of interview transcriptions, and used several methods to increase the trustworthiness of the study, including investigator triangulation, regular debriefing, and an audit trail.
We found six themes related to Concerns of Caregiving: social isolation of family member and caregiver, decline in mental health of family member, decline in physical & cognitive functioning of family members, keeping family members safe from COVID-19, lack of caregiving support, and caregiver stress. The main concern was the social isolation of their family members, and how it would lead to declines in mental health, as well as physical and cognitive functioning. We also found five main themes related to Benefits of Caregiving which included: enjoyed the slower pace, increased time together, deepened relationships, recognized the resilience of their family members, and caregiving innovations. Despite their worries, caregivers in our study were able to identify benefits of caring during this pandemic. They described how COVID-19 deepened relationships among family members, and had spurred the use of new technologies for caregiving.
Conclusions and Implications
Overall, our study’s findings illuminated how COVID-19 increased family caregiving responsibilities with inadequate supports, leading to increased stress. This was acerbated with additional changes in caregivers’ lives. There are multiple social work practice implications of our findings for family caregiving both during and after the pandemic, particularly as family caregivers shift to a post-restriction phase of caregiving. Social work practitioners, and those investigating or designing caregiver supports now and in the future, can consider developing interventions to lessen the worries about social isolation causing physical and mental health declines, as well as developing policies that recognize the importance of caregiving. Likewise, as strengthening family relationships are a positive aspect of caring, future plans for supporting family caregivers can build on this perceived benefit.