6 tips for the family caregiver

The Canadian Caregiver Coalition estimates that between four and five million Canadians provide care for a family member, contributing up to 5-billion dollars in unpaid labour to our health-care system.

Caring for a family member or loved one with dementia or other health condition can be overwhelming but there are some things that you can do to make things easier.

“Caregivers have different needs at different stages,” explains Linda Jackson, executive director of the Residential and Aging at Home Program at Baycrest. “When a loved one is newly diagnosed, the caregiver usually seeks information and education about the condition. At a later time, community services, help from friends or relatives, emotional support and home services become important.”

Jackson advises that throughout the journey caregivers should also be asking what they can do to care for themselves.

Helpful Tips:

1. Accept help
Speak openly with your friends and family and identify what they can do to help you. Often they want to help but don’t know what you need. Each family member may have a particular area of expertise when it comes to caregiving. For example, if someone in your family is better at organizing appointments and schedules, ask them to take on that responsibility. Sharing the responsibility is important.

2. Take a break
Respite provided by a friend for even two hours, or other forms of support, widen the circle of care so that caregivers feel less isolated and can continue to participate in the mainstream of life.

3. Get the most out of doctor visits
Bring all medicines in a bag, bring written questions to ask about anything troublesome, and ask what’s coming next so that you can prepare for it.

4. Join a support group
Caregivers of people with dementia have similar needs and concerns, thus may benefit from participating in caregiving support groups.

Support groups provide both concrete information such as where to get help and practical caring advice, as well as the emotional support of being with others who understand what you are going through, says Jackson.

5. Access community services
There are a variety of services and agencies you can tap into which provide meals, transportation, home care, respite and day programs. Ask your doctor, social worker or check with your local community care access centre.

6. Take care of yourself
It is important to balance the care of your relative with taking care of yourself. See your own doctor regularly; get enough rest; keep physically active; maintain a healthy and balanced diet and continue to take part in activities that you have always enjoyed.

It is not uncommon for caregivers to feel a range of emotions such as loss, sadness and anger. Speak to family members or your doctor if these feelings become prevalent.

“It can be a difficult journey,” notes Jackson. “But many caregivers talk about the tremendous feeling of gratification of being there for a person that they love.”

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