02/13/2013 08:18 EST | Updated 04/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Ask Elizabeth: Taking Care of a Loved One Starts With Taking Care of Yourself


A tide is rising, and you may be unaware. One out of five Canadians is providing care to a family member or friend. This number is rapidly climbing as the number of seniors who need help at home is due to double over the next 30 years. Most Canadians will experience being caregivers at some point in their lifetime. Are you ready for the job?

Natalie Strouth is a nurse with Saint Elizabeth and the information specialist behind Ask Elizabeth, a free caregiver support service. Saint Elizabeth has been a trusted name in Canadian health care for more than a century and is a national, not-for-profit, charitable organization.

In her weekly column, Natalie answers your questions about caring for a family member or friend who needs extra support -- and caring for yourself as a caregiver.

Send your question to

Jane asks: I am taking care of my mom who recently had back surgery and lives on her own. She needs help with small things around the house. I wish I could be there for her, but I work full-time and have three small children. I feel guilty not spending more time with my mom. What can I do?

What you are feeling is very understandable! Being a caregiver can be very rewarding and deepen relationships, and it can even be filled with unexpected moments of laughter. Yet it can also be very demanding. Remember that it is not only okay to ask for support, it's necessary. Caregiving is not often something one person can do on their own, and asking for help is a sign of strength.

I believe that guilt comes from unrealistic expectations of what we are capable of doing, as well as what we think we "should" be doing. Be realistic about what you can do for your mother. From my experience working with many families and caregivers -- the key to caring for a loved one is knowing your own limits and working within them and then having the strength and courage to ask for help with the rest.

Consider creating a checklist of things your mom needs help with, and who you could ask to help with these responsibilities -- other family members, friends and neighbours can help you form a caregiving team. Online networks like Tyze are a great way to organize help and foster a sense of community and sharing around your mom's needs.

I also encourage you to consider joining a local caregiver support group. It can be a great place to express your feelings, find reassurance that your emotions are normal and expected, and learn new tips and strategies from other people who have been there.

To find a support group in your community try contacting:

• Your local health authority (e.g. CCAC in Ontario or Home Care in Nova Scotia)

• Your family health team

• A local advocacy organization (e.g. Alzheimer's Society, Cancer Society)

• A caregiver support organization (e.g. Family Caregivers Network Society, Victoria, B.C.)

• A local seniors centre

• Friends, family, co-workers or neighbours who are or have been caregivers

Also consider online, group and one-on-one support. And where it's available, Call-211 provides information and referral to community and social services.

Send your caregiving question to Answers may appear in an upcoming weekly column.

Ask Elizabeth does not offer legal guidance, nor does it answer questions about personal health issues.