On this Bell, Let’s Talk Day 2016, let’s remember too, the caregivers amongst us, who give so much of themselves. Being called into collective action more and more often, to support an aging population, caregivers experience a myriad of feelings, not the least of which is a fractured sense of overall health and mental well being.
According to Statistics Canada’s Family Caregiving Report, released in 2013, there are over 8 million informal caregivers in Canada providing care to family members or friends with chronic conditions, disabilities, and other health needs. Informal caregivers are unpaid caregivers that provide critical support and care that allow Canadians to recover from illness and age at home. The economic contribution of informal caregivers is conservatively estimated at $25-26 billion annually, taking into consideration the number hours of care provided and market wages. The savings to Canadian health care systems are even greater since many people who would otherwise need care provided by hospitals and other care facilities receive care at home instead. Despite the support provided to family or friends and the savings to the health care system, caregivers face a variety of challenges, ranging from lost work and income to physical and mental burdens.
“Research consistently estimates between 70 and 80 percent of the care given in the community to older adults is provided by family and friends. The imputed economic cost to replace family caregivers age 45 years and older, who provide care to those 65 years or older with a long-term health condition, with paid workers at market rates is estimated to be $25 billion.” (Health Council of Canada.2012 Report: Seniors in need, caregivers in distress)
Caregivers have multiple responsibilities beyond caring for their chronically ill, disabled or aging family member or friend. Over one quarter of caregivers are balancing a life somewhere between child rearing, caregiving, and paid work. 50% of family caregivers are also between the ages of 45-65, which are considered to be peak earning years.
Mental stress and emotional distress are the most common challenges for caregivers. Caregivers have reported commonly feeling worried or anxious, tired, overwhelmed, resentful, and lonely. Such stresses and emotional distress can also lead to negative effects on caregivers’ physical health. Studies have shown that caregivers experiencing chronic stress are at a higher risk for injury or for aggravating pre-existing health issues. The levels of emotional and health distress also increase with the intensity of care, especially those providing heavy care and for people with depression, behavioural problems, or cognitive deficits, such as dementia. High levels of emotional distress and stress is also related to the health and safety of the care recipient.
Most people become a caregiver suddenly, due to an unexpected health crisis of a family member. Not only is there no preparation for becoming a caregiver, when caregivers do seek out formal support, there is usually little or none. Workplaces lack caregiver leave programs, job protection for caregiving, and flexible hours or work arrangements. Governments provide limited financial support for caregivers and minimal funding for home care and social support programs. Often, caregivers must take on the full burden and costs when providing care. (Statistics Canada. 2012. “Portrait of Caregivers” http://www5.statcan.gc.ca/
CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons) is calling for a more comprehensive approach to support caregivers and meet their various needs in a 2014 report titled CARP’s New Vision for Caregiver Support. (www.carp.ca) The report calls for:
• Greater financial support should be provided to caregivers to relieve the financial burdens of caregiving. For example, the current federal caregiver tax credit should be increased and made refundable.
• Financial supports should be available for all caregivers who provide heavy care and not limited to certain type of care, such as the Compassionate Care benefit’s “terminal illness” requirement.
• Long-term care (LTC) insurance can be an effective way to provide financial support for caregivers. Germany’s universal public LTC insurance, for example, provides caregivers with cash and/or in-kind benefits when LTC is needed
• Workplace protection should be available for informal caregivers balancing caregiving and work responsibilities. For example, Ontario’s Family Caregiver Leave Bill would provide 8 week of job-protected leave for employees providing care for a family member with a serious medical condition.
• 90% of Canadian workers are covered by provincial labour codes but federally regulated industries are not. Federally regulated industries should also have job protection coverage for caregiving responsibilities. (In Ontario, visit the following link for information about Family Caregiver Leave, Ministry of Labour. http://www.labour.gov.on.ca)
• Heavy care providers should be given respite care options to mitigate the high risk of their own physical, mental, and emotional health deterioration. For example, countries, such as Germany and the UK, have long-term care insurance that will help meet costly caregiving needs. In Germany, family caregivers can get up to 4 weeks of vacation while using their insurance benefits, which can be received in cash and/or in-kind services for long-term care, providing some respite care for caregivers.
• More funding is needed for home care. CARP members identified government funding for home care as a priority in enhancing the caregiver-patient relationship.
• Formal training and support should be provided for informal caregivers and can be done via the formal health care system. For example, when a care recipient first comes in contact with the health care system due to an acute event, the health care system has the opportunity to also work with the informal caregiver from the start with resources and support.
According to The Canadian Caregiver Coalition, the financial impacts related to caring for loved one can be significant. Over 1.2 million Canadians aged 45 years and older, reported extra expenses due to their caregiving responsibilities Collectively, Canadian caregivers aged 45 and older spent approximately $1,049,600 per month on care-related out of pocket expenditures in 2006, or almost $12.6 million. (http://www.ccc-ccan.ca)
Wednesday January 27th, 2016 is Bell, Let’s Talk Day. Follow along here. http://letstalk.bell.ca