Canada’s in Need of a National Caregiving Strategy

If you’re one of the 8.1 million Canadians who provide care for a loved one, then you understand more than anyone how critical a new strategy is. First, let’s examine a couple scenarios. Although these are fictional, they’re realistic situations that Canadians face on a daily basis.

• Janet is a mother of two teenagers, working as an accountant’s assistant. Last year, her father died leaving her mother to live alone. Slowly, Janet’s mother’s ability to care for herself deteriorated. She needed help caring for the home, as well as herself. In order to care for her mom, Janet had to switch to part-time, resulting in financial difficulties for her family.

• Terry lives in a small space with his 82-year-old father. His elderly father suffers from multiple health complications and requires significant assistance. Although he is able to care for him at this time, they’re struggling to pay the bills and Terry fears that the level of care he’s providing isn’t sufficient. They have no immediate family nearby and Terry has no idea where to turn for assistance or support.

• Susan is 74 and caring for her 80-year-old husband. He was recently diagnosed with dementia and caring for him has become increasingly stressful. It is affecting Susan’s blood pressure and she’s now displaying symptoms of depression. Once again, she doesn’t know where to turn for help.

These are the types of challenges that unpaid caregivers face on a daily basis. Whether it’s lack of financial stability, lack of complex care, or lack of support, a new strategy is needed. Within Ontario alone, 20% of the population provides the majority of care for a loved one in need. This is an area that’s affecting so many and will continue to affect millions in the future.

Based on unpaid care, most of Canadian caregivers continue to work, putting their own health at risk. What does this mean for caregivers? Well, the lack of support not only affects their mental and physical health, but also their personal life, professional life, as well as the quality of care they offer their loved ones.

The need for care is going to continually grow, as Ontarians aged 65 years and older are expected to double within the next two decades and those 85 years and older are expected to quadruple. Since approximately 43% of Ontario seniors have two or more chronic health conditions, this is alarming.

The role of caring for seniors has fallen on unpaid caregivers, which creates numerous problems in itself. Firstly, unpaid caregivers aren’t always available. Family structures are complex and rapidly changing. Since 2001, families with two adults and children have fallen by 18%. Over half of the adult population isn’t married, while 25% of families are led by a single parent.

These changes in family dynamics will create a lack of reliability in terms of family members ability to care for older loved ones. If unpaid caregivers had access to formal programs and services, their ability to care could potentially shift. Availabily is critical, however, the challenges do not end there.

We all know that time doesn’t stand still, meaning unpaid caregivers are aging as well. Just under half of caregivers are between the ages 45 and 64 years old, while individuals aged 65+ account for 12% of the caregiver population. The older the caregiver, the more vulnerable they are to the negative effects associated with this stressful role.

What’s being done you ask?

Well, a recently released government report examined Canadian workers who assist a disabled individual (many of them being seniors). This free of charge care is not only causing reduced income, career limitations, and forced early retirement, but there’s also an estimated $1.3 billion in annual productivity loss.

Although some employers do offer flexibility to employees with caregiving needs, this is not the case for most. Last year, the federal government arranged the Employer Panel for Caregivers which focused on ways in which employers could provide greater support.

This was based on the realistic assumption that unpaid care will continue to be the main source of long-term care in Canada. Although it would aid in greater retention and engagement in the workplace, there isn’t a business case for many employers to voluntary engage. In other words, it doesn’t look like compassion for caregivers will cause a significant movement anytime soon.

Yes, employers play a role, but they’re not the only ones who need to seek change. Canadian policymakers cannot be ignored in this national issue. Both Manitoba and Nova Scotia are leading in terms of their efforts, however, this isn’t the case across the country. Efforts remain inconsistent and fragmented.

Some argue that the government should compensate caregivers. Whether you agree is a matter of opinion, however, governments should provide greater support and assurance that caregivers will not incur significant income losses or lose their careers as a result of caregiving.

When caregiving roles extend to several hours a week over an extended period of time, there should be public programs available that provide significant assistance. At this time, some caregivers are provided coverage while others are not.

Only a national strategy will allow Canadians to care for a loved one as they continue to work, allow employers to continually focus on their core objectives, while individuals in need are provided with the quality of care they require.

In the mean time, if you are in need of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us regarding your options. We’re here to help you.

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