The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a wake-up call to Americans about their vulnerability to unforeseen illness and mortality, and has already inspired three out of four adults to make changes in their plans for the future, according to a survey recently conducted by Genworth.

The survey was designed to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on Americans' lives and their thoughts about long term care and financial security.

Among the survey findings:

  • A majority of Americans said the pandemic has forced them to confront their own (53%) as well as their loved ones' (65%) vulnerability to unforeseen illness.
  • The pandemic caused one in three Americans to unexpectedly become caregivers overnight. These new caregivers said they had to carve out about nine hours a week, a typical work shift, to provide care for their children or older family members, or the dependents of front-line workers.
  • With unemployment at historic highs and retirement savings subject to fluctuations in the stock market, 24% said they are less confident in their financial futures.
  • The pandemic is taking an emotional toll on Americans, with respondents most often reporting anxiety (49%) and stress (53%) as a result of the abrupt disruptions in their lives and plans for the future.
  • As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, 73% of survey respondents said the pandemic has changed their attitude about planning for the future.

Among the changes they have resolved to make:

  • Improving their health and well-being (37%)
  • Planning better financially (34%). In fact, 39 percent said they were more willing to prioritize saving for the future than they were pre-pandemic.
  • Making sure they are financially prepared to pay for future long term care in the setting of their choice (32%).
  • One out of three Americans said they have already started taking action by thinking, researching, talking to loved ones and/or financial professionals about how they would pay for long term care services they might need. As borne out by previous surveys, most respondents said they preferred to receive long term care at home.
  • Carving out more time for their families (26%)
  • Living more in the moment and not worrying about the future (23%)

"Respondents' reactions to the pandemic are not surprising considering the pandemic has had a tangible impact on just about every aspect of people's lives," said Christine Jensen, Ph.D., director of Health Services Research at the Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health, based in Williamsburg, VA. "It has opened their eyes to the importance of lifelong health and being more proactive about planning for how we, as well as our older family members, want to age."

From a public health standpoint, if there is a silver lining to the pandemic, Jensen said, it's that the pandemic has shined a spotlight on family and professional caregivers and raised awareness of all that they do.

"Many are in a challenging situation they hadn't prepared for, but they are rising to face the challenge and it's important for us, as a society, to support, value and validate their role," Jensen said.

Jensen offered several pieces of advice for people who are motivated to improve their lifelong health or who find themselves in caregiving roles.

Plan ahead, educate yourself and reach out for help.

"The survey clearly demonstrates that the pandemic has inspired a lot of soul-searching, as people come face to face with the possibility that they or someone they love will become sick and need long term care," Jensen said. "All of us, regardless of our age and caregiving role, need to consider and plan for how we or our loved ones want to be cared for when we are unable to care for ourselves, whether because of a serious illness, a debilitating disease or cognitive impairment."

For caregivers or someone who has just received a health diagnosis, Jensen prescribes education as a path to empowerment.

"You're never too old or young to learn," she said. "Arm yourself with knowledge and education and don't be afraid to ask questions. Being informed will empower you to be a better advocate for yourself or the person you're caring for and it supports lifelong health and well-being. There are numerous resources in the community and online. Support also may be available from your family, your religious community or social services."

The final piece of advice is to know your limits.

"Whether you are a caregiver or someone who is dealing with a health issue, your sense of interdependence should be strong," Jensen said. "You don't have to be independent and fight to the end. Reach out for help; you don't have to do it alone."

Published: June 30, 2020