“Considering family caregivers and those they care for during this time of COVID-19 is vital,” said Dr. Margaret Longacre, chair of Public Health. “One decision somewhere can have varied impacts on others somewhere else because we are so interdependent.”
In the U.S., 11 million people, or approximately 3.4 percent of the population, make up the Sandwich Generation—a group of caregivers who care for an ill or disabled adult and also raise children, hence “sandwiched” between the two groups. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving's report on Sandwich Generation Caregiving, which Dr. Longacre advised, the Sandwich Generation is unique in that the average age is younger, at age 41, and more ethnically diverse compared to other caregiving groups.
“They’re often balancing not only caregiving but employment as well,” said Dr. Longacre. “The financial strain of caregiving must be addressed. They need support and the opportunity to talk about what the demands are as caregivers.”
During COVID-19 it can be harder to balance family needs and careers, and Dr. Longacre notes there are specific challenges for Sandwich Generation caregivers. Not only are they likely assisting with or taking on additional roles related to their child’s education, they must also find ways to safely interact with those they care for—whether they’re living in a care facility, with the caregiver, or independently.
“Juggling all of these responsibilities might result in adverse outcomes for caregivers, like anxiety and depression, which in the long term can have negative implications on physical health,” said Dr. Longacre. “This is a critical public health issue because when a caregiver is supported the outcomes for that caregiver and the care recipient are generally better.”
This research on the Sandwich Generation caregivers, which was conducted prior to the pandemic, showed that that “caregiving teams” are common and might be effective in relieving stress because it helps spread out responsibilities, but can sometimes add strain on the team relationships. Dr. Longacre also recommends that caregivers find support groups or others who have provided care, in order to openly discuss their emotions with those who have shared experiences. Her final piece of advice for reducing emotional stress—exercise. Caregivers should find an activity they enjoy, whether that’s walking, yoga, or another exercise.
“Practice positive coping,” she said. “Engage in an activity that you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it because you need things that are meaningful and helpful to you to reduce stress.”
Dr. Longacre hopes that post-pandemic employers will understand caregiving demands and provide supportive programming, including more flexibility with schedules and opportunities to telework when feasible. She is also optimistic that new policies at the state and federal levels will continue to be considered and implemented to help not only ease the financial burden of caregiving, but also enable caregivers to be more engaged in the healthcare process.
“COVID-19 is clearly highlighting the importance of caregivers at all levels,” said Dr. Longacre. “My hope is that caregivers are valued and it’s understood how essential they are in our society going forward.”