April 5th, 2022, is Caregiver Appreciation day! It is the perfect reminder to recognize the efforts of the informal caregivers in our communities and to raise awareness for their support.
Caregiving can be a few hours a week or a full-time job supporting a loved one 24/7. The most common support provided is transportation, scheduling appointments, housework and/or home maintenance. For some it can mean performing medical tasks, even those usually done by professionals.
There are also many faces to caregivers in Ontario. Approximately 18% of caregivers are under 25 years old and are considered young caregivers. This amounts to 500,000 Ontarian youth. Young caregivers may support their siblings, other relatives, or friends. Balancing caregiving responsibilities with school and other duties can increase social isolation, anger, loneliness and grief for these caregivers. Many in the role feel as though they have to grow up faster than their peers, and believe thatthey don’t have the same opportunities to be a kid. A further challenge comes if their contributions are not recognized by those around them. Others in the circle of care may not recognize the impact that caring has on their lives. This comes in part with the assumptions that they are not affected by caregiving, as they are often not the primary caregiver. But supporting the primary caregiver and care receiver in other ways, does have an impact.
Another large group of informal caregivers has come to be known as the “sandwich generation.” These caregivers are supporting aging parents and children at home, undertaking caring duties on all sides. The pressure for this group is particularly strong as many are active members of the workforce. Interestingly, approximately 35% of the Canadian workforce is balancing caregiving with professional duties which adds to an already full plate. This difficult balancing act can put these caregivers' wellbeing at risk. Frequently working caregivers need to adjust their hours, schedules, and/or positions in order to maintain their caregiving duties. These costs are hard to measure but undoubtedly add to the cost of caregiving on individuals and the economy as a whole. A 2020 report found that informal caregivers report financial support as their most common need.
Caregiving should always be a team effort. The dynamic nature of the caregiving journey means that there will be a lot of the unexpected—new responsibilities, shifts in relationship dynamics, increased time commitments and more! But creating a strong circle of support from family, friends, and professionals can significantly help individuals throughout their caregiving journey.
Reading this you may have realized that you or someone you know is a caregiver. And you may be wondering what support is available for caregivers? Or what you can do to support the caregiver in your life?
To answer these questions, perhaps start by having a conversation with friends and neighbours. Normalizing the recognition of the role can help reduce stigma and feelings of isolation. Knowledge is power along the caregiving journey. Learning from experts and others in a similar situation can also provide tips on how to prepare and insight into aspects you may not have considered. Be kind to yourself and others. Everyone's experiences are different and valid.
Remember, there are also local programs that provide support and education for all those within the circle of care. The Caregiver Wellness Program at the Scarborough Centre for Healthy communities offers free services to Scarborough caregivers in English and Tamil. To learn more or get connected, check out www.schcontario.ca/caregiverwellness or firstname.lastname@example.org by phone (416)-847-4138.