The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation of caregivers in situations of health-related socio-economic vulnerability

When Floria Foote started caring for her sister, elle hadn’t anticipated the magnitude of the task she would have to perform during her sister’s decline. “It wasn’t his style at all,” says Floria Foote. “She was the go-getter, raising two foster children and caring for our aging father at the same time. She went from that level of activity to not wanting to do anything anymore. I had to help him wash up in the morning, make him stick to a schedule, manage his bills, everything. »

Foote’s experience as a caregiver is surprisingly common. One in five American adults provided unpaid care for another adult in 2020. This invisible group provides essential support to our society, especially as the population ages, but faces many challenges and a lack resources in the course of its work. New research from the University of Chicago Medicine only further underscores this problem.

A new study has revealed that before the COVID-19 pandemic, female caregivers were significantly more likely to face health-related socio-economic vulnerabilities, such as food insecurity, financial pressure and transportation difficulties, compared to non-caregivers, 63% of caregivers who reported at least one vulnerability, compared to 47% of non-caregivers. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, things got even worse: caregivers were more likely to experience new or worsening financial pressures, as well as new interpersonal violence, food insecurity , transportation difficulties and housing insecurity. The results were published on September 26 in the Annals of Family Medicine.

Many adults take care of other adults. To United States, one in five adults and one in three women are caring for a parent, sibling or friend who needs help on a daily basis. These caregivers play an essential role in health care. If caregivers were suddenly unable to provide care for whatever reason, we would have a problem. Our system could not handle the sudden influx of support needs. »

Jennifer Makelarski, PhD, MPH, Senior Epidemiologist, University of Chicago and lead study author.

Caregivers need to balance their own lives and needs and those of their dependents, finding ways to care for themselves while devoting much of their time to caring for loved ones. “When you’re in care mode, there’s a pull effect,” Foote said. “You end up neglecting yourself for the person you’re caring for, but it’s still a struggle because you have to maintain your own health as well. You can’t get sick or get out of shape or anything that gets you down, because you have to be able to function, for yourself and for the person you’re caring for. »

Caregivers are already more exposed to health-related socio-economic risks, and all that compromises their ability to care for themselves and their dependents –; for example, a global pandemic –; puts additional pressure on this invisible, unpaid workforce. Those experiencing financial instability or housing insecurity may find themselves unable to provide adequate care for themselves and loved ones. All of these risk factors can have a direct impact on a person’s health.

“People think my job as a gynecologist is to diagnose and treat problems with the female sex organs,” said Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, MA, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and medicine-geriatrics at UChicago Medicine. “When I identify and appreciate my patients as whole persons, including their role as caregivers, I can adapt my medical recommendations to this reality. If I don’t, my best medical care may be futile. This study is a call to action for health care systems to systematically and proactively identify people who are caregivers so that we can provide them with care that is right for them in the context of critical care that they lavish on others. Caregivers are an overlooked extension of our healthcare system. »

The researchers point out that while caregivers face additional challenges, these are modifiable. “Something can be done to support caregivers,” Makelarski said. “Things have gotten worse for everyone during the pandemic, but even more so for female caregivers. And these are things that we can work on to intervene, to better support this essential component of our health system. »

They hope these findings will contribute to the federal government’s efforts to formalize caregiver support resources; they also plan to share the findings with organizations and community representatives who can help raise awareness of this issue and advocate for systemic change.

“Traditionally, medical care has been primarily focused on what happens within the confines of the body and within the four walls of a clinic or hospital,” Lindau said. “But there are factors outside the walls, like access to food and transport and a safe community, that affect a person’s health. How can female caregivers care for their loved ones if they do not have enough to eat themselves, or if they are victims of violence in their homes or communities? Women caregivers bridge the great gap between the healthcare system and the home of our rapidly aging population, and it is in all of our interests to support them. »

For Ms Foote, whose sister died in 2020, being able to support her sister was exhausting, but she was grateful to be there. “I always said if she needed me, I would come and help take care of her,” Foote said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made everything much more difficult, but it was nice to live with my sister again, to be there for the day to day. »

Source :

Journal reference:

Boyd, K., et al. (2022) Caregiving in a Pandemic : Health-Related Socioeconomic Vulnerabilities Among Women Caregivers Early in the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Annals of Family Medicine. doi.org/10.1370/afm.2845.

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