Tomorrow, April 3rd represents the second annual Family Caregiver Day orchestrated by the Ontario Caregiver Coalition. There are over 3 million unpaid caregivers in the province, providing support to loved ones facing illness, disability or challenges associated with ageing. Family Caregiver Day is a chance to recognize, celebrate and bring awareness to the value of caregivers to Ontario’s families, the health care system, and the economy.
This year, the Ontario Caregiver Coalition is highlighting three generations of caregivers:
• Young caregivers: There are almost 500,000 family caregivers in Ontario who are between 15 and 24years old. There are many caregivers who are even younger.
• ‘Sandwich’ generation caregivers, who provide care for both their aging parents and their own children.
• Elderly caregivers: Nearly 375,000 caregivers in Ontario are 65 years or older.
Caregiving is often not recognized as separate from being a good friend, child, parent or spouse, but it is a distinct role with unique challenges and solutions. The Ontario Caregiver Coalition is asking the provincial government for the following supports:
• Alleviation of Financial Distress: The Ontario government should move forward quickly with the adoption of a financial benefit for caregivers that will allow them to remain in a caregiving role. This could be most easily accomplished through a form of caregiver tax credit that is refundable – or through the introduction of a caregiver benefit allowance that is means-tested.
• Need for Flexible Respite Options: That there be an emphasis in the rollout of the Self-Directed Care program by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care on evaluating the impact, both benefits and disadvantages, on caregivers of implementing this model. In particular, it should be determined, through continuing consultation with caregivers, whether the model is achieving desired results in improving the flexibility of respite options in the community.
Not everyone is a family caregiver but chances are you know at least one in your family, group of friends, or through work. You may already know from observing a caregiver that their role is not easy so here are some ways to show your support for the caregiver.
Being accountable for another person’s well-being is a huge responsibility and no matter how self-assured a family caregiver may seem there will be times when even they will doubt their own decisions. Unsolicited advice (which usually starts off with the words “If I were you…”) will only heighten that sense of insecurity and feeling of inadequacy for the caregiver. If the caregiver you know is having doubts about their own caregiving abilities, remind them that no one is perfect and that you know they are trying their best to juggle multiple roles at the same time.
Help a caregiver find balance or get some respite by volunteering to drive the care person to their next appointment, or providing the care person with some companionship while the caregiver takes care of their personal needs. You could also arrange regular walks with the caregiver, a coffee meet-up, or a weekly dinner at a local restaurant. Any opportunity for the caregiver to get out of the house and away from the caregiving role can do wonders for their stress levels and overall well-being.
It can be lonely being a family caregiver. Not everyone can relate to the responsibilities that come with caregiving, and some family caregivers can become socially isolated because of their caregiving duties. If you know a caregiver, keep the lines of communication open. With email, cell phones, and social media, sending a quick note of encouragement or greeting has never been easier.