Tag Archives: pandemic

Rural America hit hard by latest COVID-19 wave

When the pandemic first took hold in America, the bulk of cases were in urban areas, like New York City. I remember at the time reading some opinions from those in rural areas of the country, who thought that being a spread out population would protect them from the coronavirus. While that may have protected them somewhat during the early period of the pandemic, the trend have now reversed, with rural areas of the country being overwhelmed by an influx of COVID-19 cases.

Vaccine hesitancy and the political influence of anti-vaxxers and covid deniers in rural America is playing a role in the rise of cases from the delta variant, but that is not the whole story. What we are witnessing are the critical deficiencies in the rural healthcare system. People are dying needlessly because there is not enough space, supplies and staffing to care for them. With the country’s elder population increasing over the next decades, this is an issue that needs prompt attention.

I witnessed the challenges facing those needing medical care in rural areas when I was a caregiver for my parents. There were no memory care facilities with available beds nearby, so my father was transferred to Roswell, over an hour and a half away. This placed a huge burden on my mother when trying to visit him, as she didn’t drive and had to take a bus to make the trip. She was so tired after one grueling trip that she fell in the middle of the night and broke her shoulder. When my father became critically ill, he was transferred all the way to Albuquerque, a three-hour trip from where my parents lived. He died without family present, as my mother was preparing to visit him.

When my mother became ill, the local hospital was unable to perform her surgery, so they transferred her to Roswell. She spent the summer there, recuperating from surgery at a skilled nursing facility. Instead of making the trip back and forth to my parents’ home in Ruidoso, I lived out of a hotel in Roswell for that summer, a pricey endeavor but I learned how important it was for me to be a hands-on caregiver advocate for my mother during that recovery period. Her follow-up care had to be carefully arranged once she got back home, because the oncologists only visited Ruidoso a few days a month. After she died, I learned that the oncologist group discontinued serving the area, forcing those with cancer to travel an hour and a half away for treatment.

Many rural hospitals have closed. Equipment and beds are limited. It’s difficult to recruit doctors and nurses to serve in rural areas. Ambulance services have also been impacted, meaning people die because they can’t get to a hospital fast enough. Specialty services and tests often require lengthy travel, a burden for many families. You can see how these issues create a perfect storm when a pandemic strikes. Many rural healthcare systems now find themselves at the breaking point.

People should be able to age in place where they wish, but they should also be aware of the challenges in aging in a rural area. It will take a mix of public and private funds along with innovative minds to fix the issues plaguing the rural healthcare system, but it is essential and we must take the hard lessons learned during these times to advocate for change.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

Caregiver concerns regarding the delta variant

Pixabay

Those who have been following the coronavirus pandemic closely are likely not surprised that a concerning variant has emerged. This was one of the scenarios that worried infectious disease experts. Here is what caregivers should know about the delta variant:

What is different about the delta variant: It’s more transmissible, and is running rampant through America’s large swaths of unvaccinated populations. The debate is ongoing on whether it causes more severe disease. Hospitals across the US are seeing younger people fill up beds, which is different than earlier iterations of the pandemic.

How to protect elder loved ones: The good news is that roughly 80 percent of Americans over the age of 65 have been vaccinated, according to the CDC. If you have an elder in your life who has been reluctant to get vaccinated, now is the time for them to seriously reconsider. For those who cannot or will not get vaccinated, extreme caution when interacting with others, especially in public, is critical. That includes masking and limiting contact with unvaccinated people.

But what about the breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated people? Vaccines have never been full-proof. The influenza vaccine in particular is a roll of the dice each year when it comes to effectiveness. The COVID-19 vaccines face the same challenges, especially when it comes to variants. While the studies showing that vaccinated people can carry a similar viral load to the vaccinated, it’s important to focus on the bottom line. The overwhelming amount of people who are being hospitalized due to the delta variant are unvaccinated. The vaccinated breakthrough cases typically result in asymptomatic or mild symptoms. Down the road, booster vaccine shots may be necessary to address variants.

What about nursing homes? According to the government, 81 percent of nursing home residents and 58 percent of staff have been vaccinated. A concerning study found that aides working in nursing home have lower vaccination rates. These are the staff members who interact with residents the most, so for the well-being of residents and staff, more facilities may consider vaccine requirements. If you have concerns about unvaccinated staff members at a facility where your loved one resides, talk to management. It’s also possible that facilities will reimpose visitation restrictions to reduce the risk of outbreaks of the delta variant.

Will this ever end? I wish I had a crystal ball. Everyone is exhausted. It is particularly disheartening for those of us who followed the guidelines and got vaccinated, and now find that a variant is threatening to upend the cautious reopening phase. Some experts approach the future of coronavirus like seasonal influenza, where as a society we take precautions as we can, but accept that there will be cases, hospitalizations and even deaths in vulnerable populations. Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb estimates that we are further along with the delta variant than we may think, and that while brutal, the variant will sweep through the country fairly quickly. Other variants may follow, so stay vigilant when caring for anyone who is older or in a vulnerable population. If it is safe for you and your loved ones to do so, try to stay engaged in activities that you enjoy, whether it’s being out in nature or in low-risk social situations. It’s important not to overlook our mental and emotional health while we address COVID-19 variants.

Leave a comment

Filed under Awareness & Activism

This Mother’s Day, reach out to those who are grieving

My mother’s last Mother’s Day in 2015.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left thousands of Americans motherless this year. One model shared in a study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggested the number of children who lost a parent due to the pandemic could be as high as 40,000, a staggering amount in just a year’s time span. On the other end of the spectrum, adult children grieve their elder mothers who died during the pandemic, some who must grapple with the extra pain of not being able to properly say goodbye.

Having lost both of my parents, I do find that Mother’s Day is harder for me emotionally than Father’s Day. I believe this is because my mother died in the month of May, just a couple of weeks after the holiday. My last memories of her before she became bedridden was reading her Mother’s Day card and admiring the fresh flowers I bought for her. Even though this year will mark six years since her passing, those bittersweet memories are still the first to surface when I’m reminded of Mother’s Day via the endless online ads and TV commercials.

I found this essay by Carol Smith on grief and the myth of closure to be compelling and moving.

For those whose mothers are still alive and perhaps will be seeing in-person for the first time in months due to the pandemic restrictions, I am so thrilled for you and I hope you have a wonderful reunion. We know now more than ever that each moment with loved ones is precious.

If you have a friend who may be grieving the loss of their mother, reach out and offer support in whatever way is meaningful to them. It can be a lonely holiday for those whose mothers are no longer alive, and acknowledgment from caring souls can mean so much.

In honor of Mother’s Day, AlzAuthors is offering free Kindle copies of our first anthology Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiving Stories: 58 Authors Share Their Inspiring Personal Experiences.

2 Comments

Filed under Memories

Pandemic sparks discussion about end-of-life care options

Over a half-million deaths later, Americans may finally be ready to have more frank discussions about death. It is long overdue, and it pains me that it took a deadly pandemic to raise awareness, but perhaps it can be an important legacy of those who we’ve lost over the last year.

I’ve long championed the need to have “the talk” with elder loved ones, and how my parents’ refusal to discuss their end-of-life wishes created unintended but very real consequences. You can read more about my challenges in my collection of personal essays, The Reluctant Caregiver.

The pandemic showed us what many of us don’t want for our deaths: to be alone with no loved ones present, to be hooked up to machines, to die in a hospital instead of at home, to not be given a proper funeral or farewell ceremony. Hopefully we will take time to reflect upon these tragic, lonely deaths and take action now to better articulate what we would like the final phase of our life to look like.

Some may want to consider a death doula. Practically speaking, death doulas are helpers in all aspects of end-of-life care, from the bodily aspects of the dying process to spiritual concerns. They can assist with logistical issues, such as whether a client would prefer to die at home or in a hospice facility, and help coordinate burial and funeral plans. Doulas can serve as a comforting presence for both the dying and their grieving family. While it may seem awkward to bring in a stranger to what is considered a private family affair, having a compassionate, but clear-eyed presence can be a great benefit in an emotionally-charged setting. To learn more about this option, the International End of Life Doula Association offers a Doula Directory.

If you have not done so already, I hope you will take this time to think about how you’d like your end-of-life care to look and document those wishes. Encourage your loved ones to do the same. The coronavirus pandemic denied many the opportunity for a “good” death but by being more open in discussing a previously taboo subject, we can hopefully move towards a better end-of-life experience for all.

2 Comments

Filed under Awareness & Activism

Remember those mourning amid holiday cheer

It’s the ninth anniversary of my father’s death, and that also means it is time for my annual PSA (public service announcement) about being gentle and non-judgmental with those who choose not to celebrate the holiday season because they’ve lost someone during this time of year.

The coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 300,000 lives in America will put a damper on this year’s festivities. But I also noticed the opposite effect, with neighbors putting their Christmas decorations up well before Thanksgiving. Both are natural reactions and we should respect the way individuals choose to cope.

This year as I reflect upon the anniversary of my father’s death, I remembered a detail I came across in a card he had attempted to write one of his sisters, but no longer had the cognitive function to address and mail. He had written in the card that he had been diagnosed with the swine flu. He had not received such a diagnosis, but the H1N1 pandemic was in the news at the time. Dad had latched on to that to explain what was happening to his body. That memory came back strong this year as the coronavirus pandemic unleashed its fury across the world.

Related to the pandemic and the need to wear masks, I also am reflecting on the fact that Dad would likely have been anti-mask. In 1986, when I was 12, wearing seat belts became mandatory when driving a vehicle in California. I remember many heated arguments in the car because of my father’s stubborn refusal to put on his seat belt. He claimed wearing the belt was constricting and made him feel like he was choking. Sound familiar this year? As an ill-advised compromise, Dad would drape the belt over his torso, but not latch it. Fortunately we never had any serious accidents. According to the Los Angeles Times, my father was part of the majority who at the time did not wear seat belts on a regular basis.

It has been the strangest and most challenging of years and the holiday season is no different. Connect with those you love however you can safely. Offer words of comfort and healing to the many who are grieving.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

Honoring caregivers during difficult times

hands-people-friends-communication-45842

I’d like to take this moment to express my gratitude to all of the caregivers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to care for their clients during the coronavirus pandemic. If there is anything positive to come out of this difficult period in our history, it is that the duties of care workers are absolutely essential and have been undervalued by society.

As Ai-Jen Poo writes in the article, Bringing Dignity Back to Essential Work, “I think we have a moment where we’re all taking a step back and seeing just how many people are powering our economy that we just never saw before, that we never valued appropriately, and who keep us safe but we haven’t kept them safe.” Think about the essential workers who have made our lives easier during lockdown, including caregivers, grocery store workers, and delivery drivers. These are roles many have taken for granted, but no more. “Once you see the value of what somebody brings to your life, your safety, your community, your economy, it’s hard to unsee that,” Poo writes. I couldn’t agree more.

Immigrants, women and people of color make up a large part of the caregiver workforce, including those who provided care to my parents. As we take stock during these challenging times, we have the opportunity to address past mistakes, such as underpaying care workers and not providing them with the benefits and the community support they need and deserve. This is not an idealistic, but realistic endeavor. As Poo points out, care workers allow the rest of us to go do our jobs, increasing productivity across the board.

I’m donating to Caring Across Generations to support their work in elevating the dignity and rights of caregivers. I encourage you to support your local caregivers in whatever way you can.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Awareness & Activism

Finding healthy coping strategies as a caregiver

 

teacup-2325722_640_edited

Myriams-Fotos/Pixabay

A caregiver’s job was stressful enough before the coronavirus pandemic struck the world. But now, social isolation and anxiety, along with financial concerns, may feel overwhelming.

Over the last few years, I’ve spent time looking for ways caregivers can find a bit of respite, even if it’s just for an hour or an afternoon. What I learned from my work on Respite Care Share was that many caregivers aren’t seeking traditional respite care, which involves taking a longer physical break away from their loved one. While they would love a caregiving break, they worry about placing their loved one, especially those with dementia, in the care of a stranger while they’re away.

Based upon that feedback, I started focusing more on self-care, and finding realistic ways a caregiver can find some solace even in the midst of caregiving. It may be a cup of tea in the morning before everyone else is awake; it may be sitting in the garden while your loved one naps. Reading a chapter of a book after your loved one goes to bed. Listening to a favorite song while your loved one is occupied with an activity. It may not seem like much, but it can make a positive difference.

These are all things that can also be done during times of self-isolation. Supplements and herbal remedies may be helpful (but check with your doctor first.) On CBD for Caregivers, I published a post about relaxing beverages which are either non-alcoholic or lower in alcohol. The good news is that there are a variety such beverages available now, and many are quite tasty! One of my new favorites is Hella Cocktail Co.’s Bitters & Soda. It’s a nice beverage to sip while sitting outside in the area of the yard I’ve transformed into my respite corner.

Challenging times like these can find us slipping into bad habits like excessive drinking, smoking, overeating, etc. I hope you have or can find a healthier way to navigate these stressful times while keeping you and your family safe.

1 Comment

Filed under Awareness & Activism