Despite its news coverage, headlines only tell one side of the pandemic’s story. The other side -- the personal toll it’s taken -- has largely been hidden behind front doors as we isolated at home away from friends and loved ones.
Older adults and caregivers, however, has been among the most impacted. To better understand the pandemic’s effect on this community, we surveyed more than 1,800 seniors and caregivers between February 26 to March 3, 2021, as part of our “Aging in the Pandemic” report.
The results provide a glimpse of what seniors and those caring for them have experienced over the past year and offer important context for how we can support them as society reopens.
Seniors Are Going Unchecked at Home
As COVID-19 cases skyrocketed and stay-at-home orders began coming down, reports of nursing home residents going unchecked due to staffing shortages began making headlines across the country. But, our study found that these incidents weren’t just limited to those living in assisted care facilities.
Among the 1,869 seniors (ages 60 or older) who responded, more than nine out of 10 (94%) said they didn’t receive a single caregiver visit between March 2020 and February 2021.
These findings follow a body of research that suggests loneliness and social isolation are associated with medication mismanagement. Meanwhile, having social support and feeling connected to those around you is often a predictor of medication adherence.
The combination of social isolation and medication nonadherence can have serious consequences. Data show that people experiencing both conditions are 3.5X more likely to have a cardiac event than those who are adherent and have a high level of social support.
1 in 4 Caregivers Spend More Than $25,000 A Year Caring For Patients
More than half (54%) of the 801 caregivers who participated in our survey reported spending more than $10,000 per year caring for patients. Of those, 1 in 4 participants (26%) said they spent more than $25,000 annually. For comparison, that’s more than the average salary for a caregiver in 34 states.
These expenses include equipment upkeep, home maintenance, medication and transportation. Exacerbating the cost of care is the fact that much of this work goes unpaid. Indeed, Americans disproportionately rely on unpaid, informal caregiving compared to other advanced countries. U.S. caregivers — nearly always family members — provide an estimated $500 billion in free care every year.
Caregivers Are Turning to Cannabis and Alcohol to Cope with COVID-19 Stress
Our study found that 42% of caregivers increased their cannabis use over the past year to cope with pandemic-related stress. When broken down by race and ethnicity, Black and Native American caregivers’ cannabis use increased the most (57% and 60%, respectively), while it remained the same for a majority of white (61%), Latino (62%) and Asian caregivers (57%).
Similarly, alcohol use increased for 38% of caregivers. By race and ethnicity, the majority of Black (56%), white (61%), Latino (70%) and Asian (69%) caregivers reported no change in alcohol consumption while it increased for 75% of Native Americans.
What’s Next for Seniors & Caregivers?
We conducted our Aging in the Pandemic report to increase awareness of how older adults and their caregivers have fared during the pandemic and provide insights for supporting them as the world reopens.
The data bring into stark relief the unprecedented social isolation the pandemic spurred and the difficulties older adults and caregivers face every day. Perhaps among the most significant conclusions from our study is that, while the full breadth of the pandemic’s consequences remains to be seen, reconnecting with loved ones will be a necessary part of recovering from it.
To find out how you can help your loved ones remain safe and connected, see how Hero’s medication management service works and become a member today.