Labor of Love: COVID-19 Made it Clear We Need to Care for Caregivers

Labor of Love: COVID-19 Made it Clear We Need to Care for Caregivers

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, life was plenty busy for Jason Trujillo and his family.

He and his wife, Sherrie Jong, have two children, who in 2016 were ages 4 and 1. Jong — a civil engineer — was the family’s breadwinner as Trujillo completed his first year at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. As the couple raised their family and juggled work and school, Jong’s parents, Engie and Monty, were getting older; 82-year-old Monty, especially, struggled to see and hear.

When they found out Monty had Alzheimer’s disease, the family knew he needed someone to care for him. That job fell to Trujillo. At first, he resented the stressful and unexpected role. But his mother helped him put things in perspective. “She said, ‘I didn’t raise you to leave an old man that needs help. Take care of this,’” he recalls. “She was 100% right.”

Trujillo paused law school and became his father-in-law’s main caregiver, making sure Monty saw his doctors, got his medication and stayed connected to the family. When his condition worsened, Monty moved to an assisted living facility, and Trujillo visited him every day.

Then came COVID-19. Around the world, the pandemic abruptly separated residents of assisted living facilities from their loved ones. Caregivers like Trujillo have faced an increasingly difficult and isolating task as they’ve tried to offer support from afar while taking care of kids at home. Even with video calls and other technology, staying in touch — especially with people who have dementia and may not understand the situation — has been tough.

The devastating impact on seniors has pushed caregiving to a crisis point. But according to USC researchers, the pandemic isn’t the cause of this societywide problem — it’s only amplifying challenges that have been there all along. And for these experts in aging, it has never been more urgent to address the social, racial and economic inequities behind these issues and pave a way forward. Now is the time to care for caregivers.

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