Most of us, at some point, will take part in the marathon of caregiving. It’s not usually something we anticipate, sign up for or train for, but it has become the new normal as our aging population enjoys life – prolonged by medical science while grappling with chronic disease.
According to Statistics Canada, family caregivers in BC represent 28 per cent of our population. The majority are women and 60 per cent are employed. A family caregiver’s role spans an average of six years with 89 per cent of caregivers caring for over a year. For every hour of paid care being received, family caregivers are doing 10 hours of unpaid care. Despite the enormous number, their compassion and commitment largely go unacknowledged and unsupported.
How do you know if you are a caregiver or if someone you know is a caregiver?
Chances are they won’t identify as one. Caregivers usually relate to the person they are caring for through their relationship – not necessarily a role. This often explains why many family caregivers don’t recognize their role, which can be compounded by how medical and social systems focus on patients. This is slowly shifting to include family caregivers, but it isn’t the norm.
By definition, a family caregiver is a family member or friend who gives unpaid care to an adult, either at home or in a facility, who has a physical or mental health condition, chronic illness or frailty due to aging. Examples of caring: helping with transportation and errands, attending health care appointments and being an advocate, scheduling and coordinating appointments, assisting with medical treatment and personal care and providing emotional support.
Sometimes it’s helpful to ask, “Are you looking after someone who couldn’t manage without your help?”
Statistics also show that 92 per cent of caregivers report the experience as rewarding, and 70 per cent experience a strengthening of their relationship with the care recipient. But that doesn’t mean family caregivers don’t experience stress or negative health outcomes. In fact, family caregivers are more at risk of suffering from chronic illnesses, isolation and depression.
Family caregivers who are supported early in their journey have a greater chance of sustaining their role. If you know a caregiver, any time is a good time to offer information and support. Hands-on help, however, should be offered with caution, if the person the caregiver is assisting:
* has complex and/or multiple chronic conditions
* is frail and elderly
* is diagnosed with a degenerative or life-limiting condition
* is being discharged from hospital
Most importantly, let’s shift to identifying, including and supporting family caregivers. It doesn’t take a lot of time and you can start by thanking a family caregiver, asking them how they are doing and how you can help them. Tell them about how they can receive the support they need and access great information and resources – for FREE – by calling 1-877-520-3267 or by visiting www.familycaregiversbc.ca