More Americans are caretaking an aging relative because of the pandemic

UPDATED: JULY 19, 2022 AT 12:07 PM
KIRO Newsradio, Features reporter

“I never thought it would happen,” said Lake Forest Park’s Cindy Dyck. “We had her, happily, for six years, in a retirement home. We figured that’s where she would end her days.”

Dyck unexpectedly became a caretaker to her now 91-year-old mother-in-law in April of 2020.

“She was living in an assisted living facility and then COVID hit,” Dyck said. “March and April of 2020, we were watching as the nursing homes were getting hit hard, especially the one in Kirkland. So we decided that it would be better if we brought her home because she would probably be locked in her room 24/7 and being lonely was not what we wanted for her.”

Buckley’s Courtney Hirschi had a similar experience with her grandfather.

“When COVID hit, we unfortunately saw a rapid decline of care and the services were no longer provided at his retirement home. Coffee was being served cold, meals were not always delivered; there were even times when he wouldn’t get a meal,” Hirschi said. “When you’re almost 90 years old and you’re paying a lot of money to stay in a nice retirement home, that’s just so unacceptable.”

The pandemic prompted more and more Americans to move an aging relative into their home. The Washington Post reports that caregiving is the second-largest factor keeping people out of work. An AARP study found that, before the pandemic, more people moved in with a loved one to be closer to them.

“After the pandemic hit, the emotional reasons for people wanting to live together kind of went down a little bit. And those external factors, financial kinds of pressures, that increased a lot,” said Joanne Binette, AARP senior research advisor.

AARP reports that negative sentiments about multigenerational living spiked from 34% to 51% from 2019 to 2020 among Americans who said caretaking is often a burden that takes an emotional toll.

“In December of last year, I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m done,'” said Dyck. “Then I found this group on Facebook called Dementia Careblazers and this lady, Dr. Natali Edmonds, is a geropsychologist, and her goal is to help caregivers. So I took this 10-day challenge that she offered and it literally changed my whole mindset so that I can do it. And I can keep doing it for a while, until I decide I don’t want to. But I think the biggest thing when you have a caregiving role is feeling like you’re trapped. I did a free 10-day seminar that helped me to realize that, no, I always have a choice. Even when people feel like they don’t have a choice, you always have a choice. You’re not alone in this caregiving journey, there are a lot of us out there.”

Hirschi, and her husband, bought a new house so they could move her grandpa in and give him a wheelchair-accessible home.

“Being in your mid-30s and having your almost 90-year-old grandparent move in with you, I definitely had to catch myself on a regular basis to remind myself to be kind and patient,” said Hirschi. “Because a 90-year-old man who is from Oklahoma and went in the military and worked his way up into Boeing and was used to doing his own thing, he definitely let me know when things were supposed to be done a certain way and that was difficult. Sometimes he would get very upset if we would leave and go to the store or went on a date night. He would want to have people with him 24/7.”

But Hirschi was very close with her grandpa, and was so glad they got to spend his final nine months together. She encourages others to move an aging relative in.

“[My grandpa] had mentioned to my husband, ‘When it’s my time to pass, I don’t want to go to the hospital. I want to be in the living room, in a hospital bed, and I want to be able to look outside,'” said Hirschi. “When he started to decline, we were able to sit with him for the last three days of his life. It was the best situation we could have ever hoped for.”

Dyck has a different perspective.

“I have told both of my boys, ‘You never, ever, ever have to take care of me. But you need to make sure I’m taken care of,'” said Dyck. “I’m hoping that we saved enough. You can put me in a retirement home or a memory care unit. Partly, because I want them to be able to live their lives. I think COVID was pretty unique, hopefully we won’t have this forever, but I never want to be a burden to my kids. It’s hard to say that it is a burden, but it is. We’ve chosen to do it, we love to do it, but it’s hard at times.”

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal.” Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!