Eldercare the new norm

With the rapid increase in seniors and recent changes in the delivery of health care, eldercare is the new 'crisis'

The question, “Who is going to care for our aging population?” isn’t new in Canada.

Anyone reading this column knows eldercare is the new “normal” as countless Canadians take on the role of caregiver. According to Statistics Canada (2007), approximately 2.7 million Canadians aged 45 and over provided some form of unpaid care to seniors over the age of 65 years with long-term health problems.

With the rapid increase in seniors and recent changes in the delivery of health care, eldercare is the new “crisis” for the Canadian health care system and consequently, its informal caregivers.

I can give you countless examples where, thankfully I might add, family caregivers are the glue keeping an aging loved one’s care needs together through the ups and downs of age-related transitions.

Without getting on too much of a soapbox, it’s pretty clear our current health care system isn’t designed to address the needs of family caregivers who serve as the primary source of support for seniors.

More importantly, family caregivers taking on the brunt of the care aren’t being supported and protected from a role that can take its own toll on their overall health and well-being. If informal caregivers are too stressed or sick to care for our aging population who will then pick up the pieces?

I don’t need to reiterate the aging population boom; we’ve all read about it and surmised its projected impact. Seniors are living longer and the average life expectancy is increasing.

Typically, those individuals over age 80 years are vulnerable for increasing frailty, which in turn increases the likelihood of increased levels of care needs.

The literature on informal caregiving shows the first line of defence is family and friends, who currently provide upwards of 80 per cent of all caregiving tasks required by seniors. Caregivers perform a multitude of tasks and can include daily check-in, personal care, household management, transportation, case management and care co-ordination, medical advocacy and end of life care.

At a recent public presentation, I heard many stories about families providing anywhere from 5 hours to 25 hours of care per week.

Given the realities of future eldercare challenges and increased pressure on informal caregivers, it’s surprising the lack of national policy on supporting family caregivers.

In 2009, the Special Senate Committee on Aging called for a national caregiver strategy for Canada. The Canadian Caregiver Coalition spent a great deal of time getting informal caregiving on the federal government’s agenda.

In fact, the 2011 federal election saw family caregiving on every major political party’s platform. Some strides are being made towards a national strategy, albeit slowly.

At a local level, there is very much the same level of concern for our aging loved ones and their family caregivers. Our community won’t be immune to the foreseeable eldercare challenges.

One might argue our community is more at risk with the higher than average aging population. Many caregivers are making sacrifices to their own lives to provide care for their loves ones.

As a community, province and nation, we have a responsibility to care for them as much as for those they are caring for.

You can get involved, be it taking an active interest or by bring your enthusiasm and talents with the Comox Valley Seniors Integrated Care Coalition.

For more information, visit www.supportourseniorscomoxvalley.com.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Thursday.

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