In the Netherlands, about one-third of the adult population provides unpaid care. Providing informal caregiving can be very straining in normal times, but the impact of a public health crisis on caregivers is largely unknown. This study focuses on the question of how caregiver burden changed following the COVID-19 pandemic, and what characteristics were related to these changes. We use self-reported data from a sample of 965 informal caregivers from the Netherlands 3 months into the pandemic to investigate how the objective burden (i.e. hours spent on caregiving) and the subjective burden had changed, and what their care-related quality of life (CarerQol) was. We found that on average the subjective burden had increased slightly (from 4.75 to 5.04 on a 0–10 scale). However, our analysis revealed that some caregivers were more affected than others. Most affected caregivers were women, and those with low income, better physical health, decreased psychological health, childcare responsibilities, longer duration of caregiving and those caring for someone with decreased physical and psychological health. On average, time spent on care remained the same (a median of 15 h per week), but certain groups of caregivers did experience a change, being those caring for people in an institution and for people with a better psychological health before the pandemic. Furthermore, caregivers experiencing changes in objective burden did not have the same characteristics as those experiencing changes in perceived burden and quality of life. This shows that the consequences of a public health crisis on caregivers cannot be captured by a focus on either objective or subjective burden measures or quality of life alone. Long-term care policies aiming to support caregivers to persevere during a future crisis should target caregivers at risk of increased subjective burden and a lower CarerQol, such as women, people with a low income and people with childcare responsibilities. Such policies should consider that reducing objective burden may not necessarily lead to a reduction in subjective burden for all caregivers.
Bibliographical noteThe research was internally funded by the Erasmus School of Health Policy and Management
Data were gathered in a wider project by the Informal Care ThemeGroup (website only available in Dutch: https://www.eur.nl/eshpm/onderzoek/informele-zorg) of the Erasmus School of Health Policy and Management