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New Stanford survey seeks effects of COVID-19 on family caregivers

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Stanford researchers have launched a survey to document the impact of coronavirus on family caregivers and shed light on the experiences of parents, guardians and older siblings whose responsibilities have increased in the past few weeks. 

Ranak Trivedi, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System, created the survey to collect the stories and perspectives of individuals in the Stanford community and beyond. Although coronavirus has received widespread news coverage over the past few weeks, Trivedi believes there is still a crucial voice missing from these conversations.  

“I’m worried that caregivers will recede even further into the background,” she said. “Caring for family members, whether or not they are sick, is a role that can be very stressful and isolating.”

She is also curious about how people perceive their risk of contracting COVID-19, as well as what types of precautions they are taking in order to protect their family members while still providing care and support. So far, her survey has received 104 responses.  

Trivedi hopes to publish the results of the study in the next few weeks, encouraging everyone in the Stanford community to fill out the survey

“I want to know what it’s like for you,” she said. “I want to hear from people across different age groups and countries.” 

During the shelter-in-place order, people are more reluctant to seek medical and hospital care for non-COVID related health concerns, such as chronic conditions that require careful management, according to NBC News. As a result, the responsibility for caring for these individuals often falls onto family members, many of whom simultaneously have work or educational obligations to fulfill. Even if their family members aren’t sick, the responsibilities of caregivers have increased dramatically, including protecting their families from the virus, securing food and preparing meals and helping young children adjust to being inside for days on end. 

Trivedi is a clinical and health psychologist who has focused her research on the mental health effects of physical illnesses. In addition to studying how conditions like cancer and heart disease affect the mental health of patients, she believes it’s crucial to learn how these illnesses can impact a patient’s family. She said caring for a sick loved one can be “very stressful and isolating” and can take a huge emotional toll on family members without them even realizing it. And once the patient becomes the first priority, the emotional and physical needs of the rest of the family can be neglected, she added. 

Madhu Suresh, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology, is one of the researchers working alongside Trivedi. 

“Caregivers are an invisible workforce,” Suresh said. “When we publish the results of the survey, we hope that we can give their experiences a voice.”

For Stanford students and community members who are facing increased responsibilities at home, Trivedi encourages them to reach out to their professors if they need support. She also recognizes that students who live across the world may be facing additional challenges on top of caring for family members, such as taking classes at odd times due to their time zone difference. 

In addition to caring for her two younger siblings, Anna Milstein ’23 has faced time zone challenges as she completes spring quarter in Japan. 

“Being in a very different time zone — my 8 a.m. is 4 p.m. PT — has definitely restricted the courses I can take,” she said. “All of my professors have been very accommodating, but it can still be frustrating and unfortunate [at times].”

For students who are not facing these responsibilities, Trivedi encourages them to support their peers in any way that they can. 

“There’s no magical immunity,” she said. “If caregivers fall sick, they won’t be able to provide the support that their loved ones need.” 

Contact Sophia Nesamoney at nsophia ‘at’ stanford.edu

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