A caregiver, sometimes called care partner, is a person who gives care or tends to the needs of another person.
In Canada we look at caregiving as a holistic multi-pronged approach. Caregiving includes support from doctors, nurses, PSWs and a multitude of other health care professionals. Family caregivers are very much a part of this team. Let’s pause and think how COVID-19 has impacted a vulnerable sector of caregivers, our seniors.
Since March 2020, we have seen senior caregivers particularly impacted given their increased vulnerabilities with declining health as they age. Many seniors live in our communities and provide care to a loved one. At the Alzheimer Society, we hear stories of people in their 80s and 90s caring for a spouse of a similar age with dementia, or elderly parents looking after their 70-year-old child also with dementia.
For the past year, their lives have changed from being part of a holistic team to being the sole care provider for their loved one, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Circumstance has created this, often driven by fear of having others provide care in the home or not having the availability of respite, socialization and support through adult day programs.
So how have our senior caregivers fared? Not surprisingly this strong population has once again stepped up to the plate to care for their loved ones. Their days consist of providing care for all activities of daily living: bathing, grooming, assisting with meal times, providing activities, and dealing with disturbed sleep patterns. There is no pay, no time away and no time to replenish their own well-being. Alzheimer Societies across Canada offer emotional and educational support and can be a lifeline to senior caregivers. Canadian seniors have helped build Canada and are a vital part of society. They have shaped our lives through their hard work, knowledge and expertise. Here they are, quietly doing what they are called on to do, give care. Caregivers find joy, reward and satisfaction from their role; however, it is also a story of duty, exhaustion and losses.
When listening to senior caregivers, it is truly amazing to hear how they face each new day with a positive attitude. These are not super heroes. They are husbands, wives, companions, partners and friends who choose to do the endless work involved when another person needs care. They are a proud generation often not wanting to reach out for help and support. Resilient, caring, selfless, steadfast and adaptive are attributes that come to mind when hearing caregivers’ stories.
June is Senior’s month across Canada, and it is more important now than ever to reach out to the people who made and continue to make significant contributions to our country. Remember caregiving, while complicated, is also a story of hope. Recognition and advocacy for services for our caregivers might bring hope as this pandemic moves on. Will we demand the multitude of services needed for this deserving population? In the interim we encourage caregivers of persons living with dementia to reach out to their local Alzheimer Society. We thank all caregivers for the valuable care they provide to their loved one.
Elaine Griffin is a psychogeriatric resource consultant with the Alzheimer Society of Dufferin County. The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit www.mdsgg.ca or call 1-844-HERE247.