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CANA­DI­ANS WHO pro­vide care for loved ones at home have long been the over­looked – and over­worked – min­ions in our health-care sys­tem. Stricken by chronic dis­eases, am­bu­la­tory is­sues or cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment (of­ten all three), pa­tients must be taken to doc­tors’ ap­point­ments, fed, bathed, dressed and gen­er­ally mon­i­tored on a 24-7 ba­sis.

The in­vol­un­tar­ily en­listed army of eight mil­lion Cana­dian in­for­mal care­givers (a mil­lion over the age of 65) per­form­ing this role must pick up the slack for an over­whelmed and un­der­funded home care sys­tem.

Their eco­nomic con­tri­bu­tions are pal­pa­ble – un­paid care­givers pro­vide the equiv­a­lent of 1.2 mil­lion full­time jobs. If these ser­vices were per­formed by min­i­mum-wage work­ers, it’s es­ti­mated the yearly bill would come to an as­tound­ing $25 bil­lion.

While car­ing can be a labour of love, it’s still a job – and a time-con­sum­ing one at that. Care­givers must fit the many de­mands of their pa­tient into busy sched­ules, while still look­ing af­ter their own house­holds, hold­ing down jobs or even wran­gling some down­time to re­lax and recharge the bat­ter­ies.

When the pa­tient has de­men­tia, how­ever, the task be­comes even more oner­ous. Pro­vid­ing emo­tional sup­port and care for a mother or fa­ther whose fac­ul­ties have be­gun to slip away is phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally and fi­nan­cially drain­ing.

“Be­sides the sig­nif­i­cant men­tal and emo­tional toll of car­ing for a loved one with de­men­tia, it can hit us in the pock­et­book,” says Wanda Mor­ris, CARP’s vi­cepres­i­dent of ad­vo­cacy. “Care­givers of­ten strug­gle with re­duced – or no – earn­ings while in­cur­ring ex­penses rang­ing from med­i­cal sup­plies to nurs­ing home fees. Cut­ting back on paid em­ploy­ment to pro­vide care may also mean slower ca­reer and salary pro­gres­sion and re­duced pen­sions or re­tire­ment sav­ings.”

The Cana­dian In­sti­tute of Health In­for­ma­tion (CIHI) re­cently re­leased De­men­tia in Canada, a dig­i­tal re­port out­lin­ing the im­pact of de­men­tia on se­niors, care­givers and the health-care sys­tem. The

num­bers are shock­ing, es­pe­cially the ex­ces­sive bur­den placed on fam­ily care­givers.

“The CIHI re­port should serve as a wake-up call to gov­ern­ments on the im­por­tance of im­ple­ment­ing a Na­tional De­men­tia Strat­egy,” says Mor­ris. “The num­bers are alarm­ing. CARP is call­ing for a co-or­di­nated ef­fort that helps both for­mal and in­for­mal care­givers and en­sures Cana­di­ans with de­men­tia will get the best pos­si­ble care.”

These alarm­ing fig­ures il­lus­trate why ur­gent ac­tion is needed to sup­port care­givers Source: De­men­tia in Canada, CIHI

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