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Examining the Health and Wellbeing of Family Caregivers in Nova Scotia

Posted Jan 25, 2016

testingThere are currently many seniors in rely on the unpaid care they receive from friends and family caregivers in Nova Scotia. The Healthy Balance Research Program completed a report titled “A Portrait of Unpaid Care in Nova Scotia” by Keefe, Hawkins and Fancey (2006) to provide a close look at statistics surrounding caregiving for seniors throughout Nova Scotia.

This report found that 36% (265,693) of provincial residents are serving unpaid family caregivers in Nova Scotia for someone who has a long-term condition, mental illness or temporary difficult time. Only two thirds reported that they had someone to relieve them on a regular basis, and the number of individuals who will need care in the future is only expected to go up.

There are currently 500,000 Canadians diagnosed with dementia in Canada, and that number may increase by 250,000 in the next 5 years (Canadian Institute of Health Information, 2009).

By 2026 almost 1 in 5 Canadians will be age 65 or older (Cranswick, 2002), and we will simultaneously see an increase in people who require care for long-term health conditions staying in the community. As a result, the demand for family/friend, government, private and volunteer caregiving support for seniors in Halifax and around Canada will also grow.

There is a term often used in the homecare world: “Sandwich Generation.” This refers to that generation of Halifax family caregivers who are not only looking after their children but who also find themselves looking after their elderly parents.

Most seniors do not want to leave their homes, and their families are worried about their abilities to take care of those every day requirements, from eating to paying bills. This leaves their loved ones with no choice but to jump in when they are already running on overload.

Homecare is definitely an option when wanting to ease the burden of worrying about your loved one(s) when they are so anxious to stay in their own homes. Homecare can start out as one or two visits weekly to prepare meals, do some housekeeping, run some errands and help with personal care. As needs expand, so can homecare; it can increase all the way up to 24 hour live-in shifts.

In the case of a veteran, often times Veteran’s Affairs will cover the cost of home care requirements, and even if the veteran has passed away, they will often cover a housekeeping shift or two per week for the spouse.

The stress that family caregivers in Nova Scotia feel when caring for a loved one can come in many forms – mental, physical, emotional, career, financial, etc. and can take it’s toll on the caregiver. The extra burden of providing this care can result in anger, anxiety, denial, depression, dissatisfaction with life, exhaustion, guilt, irritability and stress-related physical symptoms (Sonnenburg, 2010).

Care giving can also affect your career, personal relationships, emotional/psychological health, family life and availability of personal time. Some suggestions to alleviate these stresses are to take breaks, eat and sleep well, and to bring any new or ongoing health issues up with your doctor. It is also important to know your limits and seek out resources in the community that can provide you with support. This support can include someone to alleviate your care duties as well as counseling or support groups specific to caregivers where you can discuss the difficult emotions you experience as a caregiver (Sonnenburg, 2010).

As our aging population continues to grow there is going to be a higher demand for Halifax caregivers and other care support in Nova Scotia communities. It is important that caregivers take the time to look after their own health concerns so that they are able to continue to provide this much needed and valued care.