An 'informal' caregiver is a family member, friend or neighbour who provides care or assistance to a senior who has lost some degree of independence due to a physical or mental impairment or due to advanced age. The "informal caregiver" is unpaid and not formally trained. It is estimated that up to 90% of the care provided to seniors is given by informal caregivers. 1
Informal caregiving is on the rise. Today, seniors comprise 12% of the population and by 2021 they will probably represent about 20%. 2 The growing population of older Canadians with greater life expectancy has increased the caregiving responsibilities of families 3 and decreased healthcare services, particularly at the community level, have put an increased burden on the informal caregiver.
II Needs of the informal caregiver
The stress of caring for an elderly person in the home while juggling family and professional responsibilities can be intense. A caregiver's feelings of duty, devotion and responsibility often conflict with other family concerns and with work. The busy daily routine and the lack of personal freedom may disrupt family harmony as caregiver responsibilities, decision-making and planning increase. 4
A needs assessment of caregivers showed that caregivers assisted seniors in a variety of activities and tasks, including shopping, transportation, home maintenance and housekeeping, food preparation, financial management, medication assistance, personal grooming, toilet assistance and companionship. On average, these tasks required about 18 hours of care each week, although parents tended to require about 24 hours per week. Almost two thirds of the caregivers interviewed reported being in the workforce.
Caregivers indicated that they would benefit from receiving support in the following areas: respite care, financial support, transportation and information sessions on available services.5 The results of the General Social Survey in 1996 confirmed many of the findings. The main areas of support identified were: financial compensation, respite care, flexible work arrangements and information.3 Other research also supports the opinion that caregivers benefit from knowledge of community health care and support systems.6
The needs assessment reinforced the importance of offering health promotion programs in the community and the workplace to help caregivers maintain a healthy balance in their lives.
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III Caregiver Support Program
The Caregiver Support Program was created following the needs assessment.
The goals of the program are to promote a community that values and supports informal caregivers of seniors and to provide caregivers with information about community resources.
The City of Ottawa Caregiver Support Program offers:
1. Telephone support, counseling, referral and information on community services available to caregivers.
2. A free booklet, "Community Resource Guide for Caregivers of Older Adults" which lists available resources in the City of Ottawa according to specific needs and includes communication and self-care tips.
3. A poster that won a communications award and a display were designed to increase community awareness.
4. Education and support sessions "You and Your Aging Parents/Relatives", in collaboration with the Family Service Centre of Ottawa-Carleton are offered in community and workplace settings. This three session series provides caregivers with new coping skills and allows them to share common concerns. This program would not be possible without partnerships with: Home Support Programs, Community Centres, Day hospitals, Churches and Workplace Occupational Health Nurses and Employee Assistance Programs. The sharing of feelings and the sense of affiliation with and support from others were the most beneficial aspects of the group sessions. 7 The caregivers attending "You and Your Aging Parents/Relatives" workshops have commented how much it meant to them to know they are not alone and that they were able to share experiences with other caregivers.
5. Support groups are offered to those who need continued support beyond the "You and Your Aging Parents/Relatives" sessions.
6. Support to community initiatives addressing the challenges facing caregivers such as Elder Abuse
All of the resources have been widely distributed to caregivers, physicians, pharmacies, workplaces, hospitals, community agencies and churches. The resource guide, in particular, has become an invaluable health promotion tool, and several agencies in other parts of the province have requested permission to adapt it to fit their community needs.
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The Caregiver Support program will continue to address caregiver issues and respond to caregiver needs. It is important that caregivers have the necessary skills to care for their loved ones and the knowledge to begin to advocate to governments for funding of caregiver needs.
Caregivers have become an essential and valuable link in the health care chain. Their contribution should be recognized. They need to know they are not alone!
For more information about City of Ottawa's Caregiver Support Program please call 724-4122 Jean McKibbon at ext. 26177, Jean.McKibbon@city.ottawa.on.ca or Lise Tessier at ext. 26185, Lise.Tessier@city.ottawa.on.ca.
City of Ottawa web site http://www.city.ottawa.on.ca.
1. Ontario Community Support Association, In 20 Short Years: A Discussion Paper on Demographics and Aging, 2001, p.9.
2. National Advisory Council on Aging. Working for Canada's Seniors Today and Tomorrow, April 2002
3. Cranswick, K. Canada's Caregivers. Canadian Social Trends, Winter 1997, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 11-008-XPE
4. Rosenthal, C.J., and Gladstone, J. Family Relationships and Support in Later Life, Journal of Canadian Studies, 28, 1993, 122-38.
5. Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, Health Department. Needs Assessment of Ottawa-Carleton Informal Caregivers of Adults and Older Adults, Ottawa, RMOC, 1993.
6. Clark, N.M., and Ralowski, W. Family Caregivers of older Adults: Improving Helping Skills, The Gerontologist, 23,1983,637-42.
Hardy, V. and Riffle, K. Support for Caregivers of Dependant Elderly. Geriatric Nursing, 14, 1993, 161-164