The first Tuesday of April is National Caregiver Day in Canada. It is a day designated to recognize and honour the countless hours of support that 8.1 million Canadian caregivers are providing to their family and friends with health issues.
More than six million Canadians -- 35 per cent of the workforce -- are also juggling the demands of caregiving and paid work. And more than one in four of these caregivers (28 per cent) are raising their children.
It's more than just balancing family and work. Caregivers want to provide the best care possible to the person in their care, they want to make meaningful contributions at work, and they want to raise engaged and well-adapted children.
It's a lot to take on, and it's a difficult workload to maintain. Ultimately the caregiver has to make sacrifices in some area of their life, and it's usually their own emotional, physical or mental well-being that suffers the consequences. Sound familiar? Probably.
You may not be able to fix anything or offer the perfect advice, and that's completely fine. Sometimes just being there as a sounding board is exactly what a caregiver needs.
It's also important to recognize the positive and rewarding aspects of caregiving. As a caregiver you make an incredibly meaningful difference in someone's life, each day. You are there when they need you most, and there are many beautiful moments together with the person you are caring for.
You become part of something that is bigger than yourself -- many caregivers describe how the experience forever changes their perspective on life. You are more kind, more grateful, and you realize what is truly important in life.
If you are not a family caregiver already, you will more than likely be one at some point in the future. Caregiving is a role that is very rewarding, yes, but one that is also physically, emotionally and financially stressful.
National Caregiver Day is an important opportunity to bring these issues to the forefront. We need to have conversations about how we can collectively address and reduce the pressures on our caregivers. We need to honour and support Canada's caregivers each and every day.
I've answered calls from, and spoken to, thousands of Canadians facing challenges associated with providing care, whether or not they realized they were "caregivers."
When you suddenly find yourself in the role of caregiver -- for an older parent who has developed health issues, a spouse who has an accident or a new diagnosis, a child with special needs or a friend who has cancer -- you are also still carrying all the responsibilities of your normal life.
You can feel overwhelmed by decisions and questions, such as "What treatment options do we choose?" "Does someone need to move?" "Can I keep working?" "Can we afford to hire private care?"
Even just finding the support to make informed choices can be tough.
What can you do to help? Three ways to support caregivers:
Friends and family have the best of intentions when they say "let me know if there is anything I can do to help." Caregivers are often juggling so many things that it's more helpful to offer specific support. For example, we know that 73 per cent of Canada's caregivers spend time providing transportation.
Can you offer a drive to and from appointments sometimes? Or, say "I'm heading to the grocery store tomorrow morning. What can I pick up and drop off for you?" or "I know a massage therapist who does home visits, and I know you are interested in some alternative pain relief treatments for your mom. Can I look into setting up an appointment?"
Arrange professional supportCaregivers may be focused on multiple day to day decisions and unaware of the range of professional services available to support them. Elizz offers a range of support services for caregivers, including:
- Caregiver coaches who provide support by phone and email that is tailored to each caregiver's situation
- Group support to connect with other caregivers and learn skills from experts
- Online professional counselling to deal with issues such as family dynamics, stress and grief
- Nurse advisors to act as go-to consultants, and help caregivers prepare for appointments and understand medical information
Often caregivers who spend the majority of their time providing care experience more social isolation over time. Of course a friend may need to decline a dinner invitation because her husband needs her, but don't stop inviting her. Better yet, bring dinner over one night so that she doesn't have to cook. Caregivers need their own support network now more than ever.
Spend time together, and really listen to them. In caregiving each day is ripe with discoveries in caregiving, parenthood, work and yourself. Fears. Joys. Failures. Frustrations. Hopes and many almost-just-right successes. You may not be able to fix anything or offer the perfect advice, and that's completely fine. Sometimes just being there as a sounding board is exactly what a caregiver needs.
To learn more about caregiving and how to find support, visit Elizz.com
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When an ill person brings up subjects that make you feel uncomfortable, it's natural to want to squelch the discussion or rapidly change the subject. However, it's very important to listen unselfishly and avoid responding with, for example: "Let's not get into that right now. Can't we discuss something more pleasant?" or "Do you really think it's helpful to dwell on this topic?"
Whether the patient asks a spiritual or theological question that catches you off guard or she wants to know about the side effects of a medication, it helps to learn how to be noncommittal without seeming evasive. You don't want her to think that you don't care or that you're hiding something, and you definitely don't want to offer misinformation that might do more harm than good.
Even for people who weren't very spiritual or religious throughout most of their lives, it's natural to experience spiritual anxiety during a serious illness. And it's also natural for this anxiety to lead to questions that caregivers might find difficult or even overwhelming. If your loved one asks, for instance, 'What's next? Will prayer help? Why did God let this happen to me?' it's best to call in a qualified cleric.
Just as most of us are not comfortable with chronic illness, we are also not comfortable with crying. When tears appear, we tend to whip out a tissue and murmur something along the lines of, "It's okay. Don't cry." From now on, continue to pass the tissue when your ill loved one starts to tear up, but don't pressure him to stop sobbing. Tears are a natural emotional release for emotions ranging from anger to sadness to fear, and can be very therapeutic.
When your loved one is uncomfortable, upset, or worried, you might be tempted to utter platitudes like, "Everything will be okay," "I know how you feel," "God has given you a long life," or "It's God's will." While we hope that these phrases will be a quick fix to problems we'd rather not deal with, the truth is that they're trite and meaningless. What's more, sugarcoating reality doesn't fool most people, and it certainly doesn't spark positive change.
Anger is a natural human emotion, and it's important to recognize that chronically ill people have a lot to potentially feel upset about. Understandably, many patients are angry that they are so sick. Plus, their pain and energy levels might make them less patient or less able to handle stressful situations. Therefore, it's not unusual for caregivers to be on the receiving end when their loved one's fuse blows for any reason.
Understanding how and why an illness is getting worse and more painful is intellectual. But experiencing it is a very visceral and emotional thing. The patient needs for you to connect with him on a heart-to-heart, gut-to-gut level, not just a mental one.
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