Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) first surfaced officially to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s awareness on 31 December 2019. It spread across the globe at an alarming pace, such that WHO had declared it a public health emergency of international concern within the space of a month. The introduction of various restrictions in Singapore, including the Circuit Breaker measures, has invariably disrupted the life routines of many people.
Caregivers in particular may find this period to be especially challenging. The disruptions brought about by COVID-19 measures make it even more difficult to manage the physical and emotional needs of their loved ones. There is added uncertainty of their loved ones potentially contracting COVID-19. This becomes a greater cause for concern if their loved ones are elderly and/or suffer from pre-existing ailments which might impair their immune systems. Even the slightest sniffle or an innocuous sneeze, in either themselves or the person they are looking after, might lead a caregiver to wonder if this could herald the onset of the dreaded illness. It helps to balance such catastrophizing thoughts of “I can’t cope if I get sick” with rational consideration, such as what evidence there is to support such thoughts and asking what a friend might say in this situation.
Fake news heightens the stress of both the caregiver and the person being cared for. It is thus crucial for caregivers to gather reliable information only from trusted sources and to only access such information once or twice a day.
During this period, it is even more critical for caregivers to remember that fundamentally, charity begins at home. They need to look after their own mind and body so that they can be in a strong position to render care and support for their loved ones. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle would keep their immune systems functioning optimally. This entails getting ample rest, eating well-balanced nutritious meals, staying well hydrated and incorporating physical exercise into his or her daily routine.
Circuit Breaker measures which restrict the movement of both the caregiver and the person they are caring for make it harder to maintain social connection. While large-group physical gatherings are discouraged, there is the possibility to explore new ways of staying connected such as online or virtual meetings using technology. Such meetings can take place in the comfort of the caregiver’s home, allowing both the caregiver and the person being cared for to continue to engage in various group activities such as physical exercise and interest groups. Enjoyable and meaningful activities are needed now more than ever.
The COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving. There is a constant barrage of news and information about the disease and its impact. Policies and regulations on the ground change constantly and can seem very confusing. Keeping up with the latest news and developments can be difficult and this is not helped by the existence of fake news. Our brain processes are wired to pick up threats and respond to them, which is why our attention is often drawn to these sensational but untrue reports. Fake news heightens the stress of both the caregiver and the person being cared for. It is thus crucial for caregivers to gather reliable information only from trusted sources and to only access such information once or twice a day. This is sufficient for the caregiver to stay informed and up-to-date without having to experience a constant emotional rollercoaster.
To conclude, maintain an optimistic outlook and stay confident that the situation will improve over time if everyone plays their part. For caregivers who might feel demoralized or alone, help is not too far away.
- Caregivers Alliance Limited: 6460-4400 (9am to 6pm on weekdays, excluding public holidays)
- Institute of Mental Health (IMH) Mental Health Hotline: 6389-2222 (24-hours)
- Fei Yue Community Services’ Online eCounselling Centre: https://www.ec2.sg/
The contributor is a Consultant for Psychological Medicine at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.