Coronavirus compounds caregiving challenges

Caring for an elderly loved one is often stressful for children or partners under normal circumstances, but the pandemic has compounded Bay Area caregivers’ stress as they have had to shelter-in-place for a year. While people have had to put both their vacations and other aspects of their daily lives on hold, older family members’ needs persist.

CARING AT HOME: ­— (L to R) Miyoko Truong takes care of her mother, Kazuko Doi. courtesy of Miyoko Truong

Miyoko Truong’s mother no longer has the capacity to understand the worldwide pandemic. She also likes to remove her mask when she is out in public. She often asked her daughter why she was not going to work. While she took about three months off at the start of the pandemic, Truong said her biggest challenge was keeping her mother entertained while being stuck at home.

“Before, I used to take her to the grocery stores and for shopping and stuff, but now I don’t hardly go anywhere anymore except for the grocery store,” she said.

When her work as a dental hygienist recently resumed, Truong said she was able to rehire the caregivers she had originally employed through J-Sei’s caregiver referral network before the pandemic.

Frances Kawano said her 91-year-old father had been fairly independent up until approximately five years ago. However, after a series of falls last year that required him to be hospitalized and necessitated physical therapy, Kawano said she and her father agreed to hire a professional caregiver through an agency to help him recover. Once she hired temporary help, Kawano was able to seek part-time work as a Doordash driver so she could make some money and get out of the house.

While Kawano and Truong were able to find caregivers, not all family caregivers are able or willing to do so during the pandemic. According to Ayumi Kondo, a case manager at Yu-Ai Kai Japanese American Community Senior Service in San Jose’s Japantown, some families are concerned about inviting a stranger to their home to care for their elderly loved ones during the pandemic. Similarly, Yumi Berman, social services coordinator at Kimochi Inc.’s San Francisco Japantown location, said professional caregivers within their referral list are also hesitant to work with new families.

Berman said the pandemic has affected family caregivers in both positive and negative ways. With more people working from home, she said family caregivers are able to be more flexible and look after their families better, but there are also drawbacks to being home with a care recipient all the time.

“There are some family caregivers who feel that they should do more because their time is flexible. Then they feel overwhelmed or even burnout, because they feel like … they are not doing enough,” she said.

Emi Nagai, case manager and co-facilitator for services at Yu-Ai Kai, said caregivers often forget to put themselves first.

“Caregivers tend to withdraw from taking care of themselves because they’re really focusing on taking care of their loved ones,” Nagai said. “If you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot give the best caregiving to the loved ones, so we always remind that.”

Kimochi and Yu-Ai Kai both offered bilingual caregiver support meetings prior to the pandemic at their offices. With the shut-down, however, the resources moved online. Berman said she now shares information with caregivers via a monthly newsletter and also holds individual counseling sessions as needed with clients. Kondo and Nagai said Yu-Ai Kai provides online caregiving support sessions via Zoom.


CARING AT HOME: ­— (L to R) Miyoko Truong takes care of her mother, Kazuko Doi, while Ray Kawano is cared for by his daughter, Frances Kawano. courtesy of Frances Kawano

Kawano said the Zoom sessions were helpful when her father was in the hospital. She said they reminded her to relax and take care of herself while caring for him.

Wesley Mukoyama, the support group’s facilitator, “is very good at reminding us … to not take the frustrations personally,” she said. “He just has techniques and he also brings in guest speakers that are helpful with all types of subjects that are related to caregiving, like financial experts and also people who have had personal experience caregiving, and also the process of a participant losing a loved one.”

While Kawano appreciates Yu-Ai Kai’s Zoom support group, the format does not work for everyone during the pandemic. Another caregiver, who requested to be identified by the initials M.T., said Zoom did not offer the privacy he needed at home to freely speak.

M.T. cares for his older wife who has early symptoms of dementia. He had participated in a husbands’ group at the Alzheimer’s Association of San Rafael, but has declined to join the online sessions.

“I can’t really speak freely about how hard things are. So I do get invitations through Zoom, but I’m not really taking part. I haven’t really been contacting them either, but if it becomes an in-person meeting, I am considering rejoining that,” he said in Japanese. “It’s just nice to have an opportunity to take a breather and commiserate.”

M.T. also said the year has been difficult on him and his wife. They normally go back to Japan once a year and his wife studied Japanese tea ceremony but was unable to do any of that during the past year. He said that not being able to go out for dinner or to catch a movie has been difficult, and added that his wife not being able to go to a beauty salon for five months has affected her self esteem.

Meanwhile, Kawano said she was unable to see her father when he was hospitalized.

“It was a good protocol to not allow visitors into the hospital, besides after the emergency room. So the emergency room is the only time that I could be with him,” she said. “And then after he was transferred to rehabilitation … in Sunnyvale, I was able to visit him through the outside window.”

Truong said she has family living nearby, but visits have been sparse during the pandemic. Her brothers would occasionally come over to help with yard work or do a socially distanced visit outside the house, but she noted that Zoom calls are not the same as seeing her children for dinner.

“Well, we Zoom. I didn’t use the Zoom before,” she said. “We Zoom a lot. It’s not quite the same as in-person, but it helps.”

To contact organizations for caregiving support: In the East Bay, contact J-Sei at (510) 654-4000. In San Francisco or San Mateo, Calif., contact Kimochi Inc. at (415) 931-2294. In San Jose, contact Yu-Ai Kai Japanese American Community Senior Service at (408) 294-2505.

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