Unpaid caregivers, which are typically family but also include friends and neighbours, remain an invisible pillar in the B.C. health-care system and yet make up over 25 per cent of our population.
Canadian statistics on caregiving paint a very clear picture —it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when you will become a caregiver.
If you are 45 years and older and a woman, it is almost a complete guarantee that you are caring for an aging parent or spouse. Don’t worry men, we won’t let you feel left out; 77 per cent of male caregivers aged 45-64 are employed with almost 93 per cent working more than 30 hours per week.
Caregiving can be very rewarding; however it can also be exhausting and emotionally and physically demanding. Over 60 per cent of caregivers have been caring for over three years, especially if it is a chronic disease.
When I ask caregivers what helps them most with their role, many listed three items:
Good information: The more you can find out about the person’s illness or disease, the better you can care. The more you can find out about what to expect over time, the more informed decisions your family can make for future planning. The more you understand what your role is as a caregiver, the better you can provide the right type of support at the right time.
Good support: Whether it’s a run with a good friend to vent or a caregiver support session, caregivers who feel supported are able to better carers. Don’t expect others to know what type of support or help you need; it’s up to you to take the initiative and ask for the support you need.
Good team players: Your team will include other family members and sibling, neighbours, close friends, community care providers, to name a few. Be clear in advance on what type of care and help is needed and assign everyone tasks best suited to their skills, availability and wiliness.
I am currently working with the Family Caregivers of British Columbia and I encourage family caregivers to take advantage of available programs and support offered through the Provincial Caregiver Program including:
• A resource centre for family caregivers: A family caregiver anywhere in B.C. can find one-on-one support for a variety of issues including emotional support, help navigating the system and referrals via a toll-free line, Skype or email. Simply call the Caregiver Support Line at 1-877-520-3267 and chances are you’ll be forwarded to me to take your call.
• Education for family caregivers:
Education is an important part of the program, focusing on both family caregivers and health professionals. Webinar (or phone-only) sessions focus on practical solutions to the many issues that caregivers face. Health professionals will be able to learn more about these issues and gain ideas for including and supporting family caregivers in their work.
You can find a wealth of information and information as well as upcoming dates for webinars at familycaregiversbc.ca
Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs regularly in the Comox Valley Record.