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During COVID, Aroostook caregivers require extra attention

HOULTON, Maine — While COVID-19 poses substantial risks to the general population, those with chronic or terminal illness, functional impairment, or other disabilities may be at heightened risk should they contact the virus. And for the people who take care of them, this also poses significant obstacles on how to do so. 

The Aroostook Agency on Aging, in support of November being National Caregivers Month, is highlighting some of the unique challenges caregivers face during this time, in both Aroostook and across the country, where it is estimated that more than 40 million Americans act as a caregiver to someone in need of extra assistance.

“What we do is we try to preserve that caregiver, and become a partner to them,” said Sharon Berz, who leads the agency’s Long-Term Services and Supports. “It could mean just listening, it could be looking at some long-range or short-range planning, it could be looking at in-home services.”

Many caregivers are unpaid, adding additional labor to their daily routines and caring for their loved ones. With the onset of COVID, most of the agency’s work has to be done over telephone, though some occasional house visits are done. 

Laurie Colton of Cross Lake has served as a caregiver in both professional and personal settings. She is currently caring for her mother, who has dementia, and said that the pandemic has sometimes made it difficult for her mother to connect with family members.

“She lives by herself, so it’s been hard for her to maintain contact with people who aren’t caregivers and hard to help her not feel so isolated,” Colton said. 

In light of National Caregivers Month, Colton noted that it is important for people to recognize the often silent work that caregivers do to ensure loved ones’ safety and wellbeing.

“It’s very helpful for caregivers to feel like they have the support they need,” Colton said.

Berz recommends that caregivers make sure to take time for themselves as well, to practice self-care while taking care of others. 

“They need to put it into their daily schedule, and I know they are really really busy providing care and probably working on top of that,” she said. “But it’s going to be essential that they spend a little bit of planning time to do something just for themselves. It can be anything, just as long as they can rest their mind.”

While usually they hold a caregiver celebration during the month of November, the agency plans for it to be held later in December this year in a virtual celebration, to be coordinated with Cary Medical Center. 

Reporter Melissa Lizotte contributed to this article.

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