Here’s why family caregivers need our full support

May is Family Caregiver Awareness Month, and we should take this time to connect with our friends and neighbors to do this vital work, writes author Margaret Coates.

I bet you or someone you know is caring for a friend or family member.

According to Family Caregivers in British Columbia, 26.5 percent of our population is made up of carers. Most caregivers provide their services for free, and this contributes billions of dollars to our economy annually. It seems that most of us at some point will take on the role of caregiver when a loved one or friend needs support.

May marks Family Caregiver Awareness Month. As FCBC says, “Please help make some noise and raise awareness for unpaid family and friends caregivers. Connect with your networks – family, friends, neighbors, workplaces.”

Why do we need to raise awareness? The answer is that caregivers are often unrecognized, unsupported, and underappreciated. But the role of the unpaid caregiver cannot be underestimated. According to the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, in a recent survey called Supporters of Support, Unpaid Caregiving in Canada: “This estimated $25 billion a year unpaid work is borne by millions of Canadians, more than a million of whom are over the age of 65.” Women are the most vulnerable. To provide support, they often have to leave the work force or dramatically change their lives to provide care.

It is estimated that the economic value of unpaid caregivers looking after older adults could save the Canadian health care system as much as $31 billion annually.

During COVID-19, more caregiving has fallen on elderly people who are already trapped as programs and services have been curtailed due to regional health orders. At the same time, support for caregivers such as rest or day programs and support from family and friends has been restricted due to the pandemic. Many caregivers report increased mental and physical health problems. Despite these issues, the elderly rose to the challenge.

Family caregivers are often a relative or friend who provides care and support to a person with an illness, disability or impairment due to old age. Women are most likely to provide support, often having to leave the work force or dramatically change their lives to provide care.

Ongoing work for caregivers may include transfer to appointments, or transfer to a specific program aimed at a close person or friend. Caregivers may also provide personal care such as bathing, hygiene, assistance with moving around, dressing, and assistance with eating. Or they may offer supports such as phone check-ins, companionship and emotional care, medication administration, light housekeeping, gardening, and yard work. Or caregiving can entail providing other housekeeping support such as preparing meals, running errands, and working in the yard. Some caregivers may also provide financial help and support

Now, as the pandemic recedes, programs and services are opening up again to help caregivers. A caregiver can try to get some support through caregiver support groups such as those run by North Shore Community Resources. The NSCR Caregiver Support program hosts support groups, workshops, counseling, and referrals to health care and community services. They offer stress management strategies, resources and more. She can be reached at 604-982-3302, or on the North Shore Community Resources website.

Family Services of the North Shore also offers counseling services for caregivers experiencing stress. Call them at 604-988-5281, ext. 226.

Many people in need of support may not have a family member or friend able to intervene, or the health care system may not be available to help. There is a private care sector on the North Shore to help you if you can afford it. Don’t be afraid to try their support – check the internet for caregiving support businesses near you.

According to the CARP survey, care is mostly provided to older Canadians and the need will increase as the number of seniors requiring care will double in the coming years. At the same time, the number of potential caregivers will shrink.

CARP says there is an urgent need to support caregivers now and in the future. They recommended having a refundable carer tax credit, tax deductible home care expenses, national home care standards and sustainable financing that would allow Canadians to age at home for as long as possible without increasing the burden on caregivers.

In May and throughout the year, remember that caregivers deserve our support, and may lobby along with CARP to make changes in the government system to keep the caregiver.

Margaret Coates is the Coordinator of the Lionsview Seniors Planning Association. She lived on the North Shore for 51 years and worked with and with seniors for twenty-six of those years. We welcome ideas for future columns – send an email to [email protected]

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