Can we finally say post-pandemic? Family caregivers show us we're not there yet

by Samantha Brady

This summer, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) further relaxed its Covid-19 guidelines, signaling that while the virus is here to stay for the foreseeable future, we should keep moving forward with our work, social, and personal lives. Since the CDC’s announcement, I’ve been hearing the phrase “post-Covid” or “post-pandemic” being used much more liberally. But are we actually there yet? While the shift in messaging may be welcome to many who are experiencing pandemic fatigue, parents and caregivers to older adults know that the pandemic and its effects are far from over.

Recent research from CareHive, the AgeLab’s panel of caregivers for older adults, found that caregivers, especially women caregivers, are experiencing high levels of both pandemic fatigue and caregiving fatigue and are still very concerned about exposing their loved ones to the virus, indicating that we still have a long way to go before we can confidently use the phrase “post-pandemic.”

And the risk and danger of the virus itself is only one of the Covid-related challenges that caregivers experience. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, professional childcare and care for older adults has been inconsistent, elusive, and stressful. When professional care became limited and unreliable in the early months of the pandemic, women in families took on the majority of the physical and emotional burden of caregiving. In 2020, nearly one in every five Americans reported providing unpaid care to an adult family member or loved one, with the majority of those reporting a caregiving role being women. At the same time, many mothers faced increased child care burdens due to daycare and school closures.

The increased expectations on women to balance both family caregiving and paid employment resulted in many women exiting the workforce. Six months into the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S. (September 2020), 80% of the more than one million employees who dropped out of the workforce were women, many citing caregiving burden as a primary reason for exiting. Additionally, a poll taken during the height of the pandemic found that 1 in 3 mothers who were in the workforce were considering quitting or reducing their hours to deal with increased caregiving demands.

While most schools are set to open their open their doors again this fall, to the relief of many parents, major staffing shortages and virus exposures continue to leave parents and caregivers of older adults scrambling for care, often minutes before work, while in a meeting, while working with a client, or during their evening commutes.

Parents and caregivers need support and resources to help balance their family responsibilities with their work schedules and financial obligations. Employers look for ways to support their caregiving employees through benefits, flexible work arrangements, new service offerings, and family leave policies. Workplaces aiming to support caregivers should especially consider the challenges women face, as the burden of family care often falls onto their plates.

The updated CDC guidance presents good reason for optimism toward the future. But today, parents and caregivers continue to navigate the complexities of caregiving in yet another phase of the pandemic. The AgeLab’s CareHive panel will continue to monitor caregivers’ experiences, attitudes, and wellbeing as we inch closer to a post-pandemic future.

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Samantha Brady

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