Caregivers need to remember to care for themselves

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When one steps into the role of a caregiver, it may be unintentional at first. Perhaps it begins with taking a parent to a doctor’s appointment, or picking up some groceries for an elderly neighbor. Caregiving can also begin by necessity without warning, often following a major health incident such as a car accident or stroke. At one point or another in our lives many of us will find ourselves committed to caring for another person – and I know many of us are already on this journey with a loved one.

Informal or unpaid caregivers play an important role in our health system. While our healthcare system provides services to address the medical needs of these individuals, informal caregivers can help individuals experiencing health challenges to stay at home or in the community. Caregivers can be spouses, partners, adult children, family members, friends, neighbours, and more – anyone who provides care for another person.

For those who act as a caregiver, this may be one of several hats they wear in their daily lives. Caregivers may have their own children or other family responsibilities, and like many in the so-called “sandwich generation”, they may find themselves caring for their aging parents while raising their own children. Caregivers may also be juggling their career, education, volunteer work, and other commitments and responsibilities.

While caregiving can certainly be rewarding, there is no doubt that it can also be demanding. Caregivers may find it difficult to find time for themselves, and even if they can, they may find themselves worrying about their loved one’s well-being in their absence. In short, caregiving can take quite a toll on a person’s emotional, physical, and mental health. In some cases, caregivers experience financial impacts to supporting a loved one as well.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information recently released a reporting indicating a staggering 96 per cent of individuals receiving long-term home care have an unpaid caregiver, and that more than one in three of these caregivers reported experiencing distress. This distress was found to include feelings of anger or depression, or resulted in the inability to continue with caring activities. The report also found that caregivers in distress spent an average of 38 hours per week providing care – the equivalent of a full-time job.

The data used in the report from The Canadian Institute for Health Information was gathered prior to COVID-19, which means the full impact of the pandemic on caregiver distress is yet to be known. However, with many community support programs and services suspended due to the pandemic, we know both caregivers and their loved ones must now cope with increased isolation as well.

The findings of the report reinforce the need for us as a society to better support caregivers and find new ways to help to reduce their burden. But where do we start? To begin, we can continue to explore the promising role of technology in supporting caregivers.  At Victoria Hospital Foundation, we are currently making plans to contribute to this growing body of research.

There are various other ways that technology can help caregivers, such as phone apps to help track medication schedules and appointments and video conferencing technology to help caregivers stay in touch with their loved ones when apart. Some caregivers may like the peace of mind that comes with knowing their loved one has a fall detection button like Victoria Lifeline. To see if this option is right for your family, please call Victoria Lifeline at 204-956-6777.

While finding time can be a challenge, it remains important for caregivers to prioritize their own health and well-being. Take a short break to do something you enjoy, whether it is a walk around the block or curling up on the couch with a good book. Be sure to reach out for help when needed, either to an organized caregiving support group or to a family member or friend.

Let’s be sure to show caregivers our gratitude for the important work they do. They give so much of themselves to support the well-being of others, let’s make sure we do everything we can to support them in return.

This article is meant to be informational in nature and should not replace the advice of a trained healthcare professional.