The first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 changed the ways we interacted with one another both on a personal and professional level. Two groups that were particularly impacted by this were those in need of care and those providing the care needed. While there was much media attention on nursing homes, less was spent discussing care provided to people living at home. Often, this care is provided by cohabitating and non-cohabitating family members or paid service providers. To fill this gap, Michael Bergmann (Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy and the Technical University of Munich) and Melanie Wagner (Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy) ask how care networks were affected by the pandemic and to what degree personal care was provided to those who needed it most?
Utilizing data from SHARE and the new SHARE Corona Survey, they show that the amount of personal care provided to parents increased across Europe during the first phase of the pandemic, while the amount of personal care provided to others, in particular from parents to their (adult) children, decreased. Even though the pandemic made in-person contact more difficult, depending on the country, between 42% and 58% of all parental caregivers declared an increase of personal care provided to their parents since the outbreak of the pandemic.
However, increased care led to an increase in mental health issues faced by caregivers. The findings clearly show that caregivers (compared to non-caregivers) more often felt depressed and anxious as a consequence of the pandemic and its accompanying public health measures, especially for those who increased their caregiving activities during this time. In this group, nearly 30% indicated a feeling of depression and nearly 40% of anxiety more frequently. Both values were roughly about two times as high as for caregivers who did not increase their care activities towards their parents. Especially caregivers in highly affected countries in Southern Europe reported high amounts of mental health issues.
In addition to caregivers, care recipients also suffered hardships during this time with about 21% of all care recipients reported difficulties in receiving care. This share was by far the highest in Southern European countries, where more than every third care reported difficulties in receiving care since the outbreak of the pandemic. Care recipients, overall, did not indicate a worsening of their situation with respect to pursuing planned medical treatments compared to non-care recipients. However, when differentiating between care recipients with and without difficulties in receiving the care they need, those perceiving difficulties reported substantially more often opted to cancel medical treatments themselves due to their fear of a COVID-19 infection.
The results reveal an increased burden for both – caregivers and care recipients – due to the pandemic. Overall, the study shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has a substantial impact on private care networks. It clearly shows the extent of burden caregivers are exposed to concerning non-intended effects of the epidemiological control measures and, at the same time, suggests a great need within this population for interventions effectively reducing burden as well as symptoms of anxiousness or depression to avoid further consequences.