Caregivers in distress: More respite needed in BC

By Valerie
November 26, 2015

I’ve had the honour of hearing Isobel Mackenzie, our Seniors Advocate for the Province of British Columbia speak on seniors’ issues. Isobel weaves the personal stories she hears from seniors and families to bring life to the gaps in subsidized supports and programs needed to not only keep seniors living as independent as possible but to support the thousands of unpaid caregivers that are doing the brunt of the care.

In particular, her September 2015 report, “Caregivers in Distress: More Respite Needed” resonated loudly and clear as a bell on the burden of care for unpaid caregivers.

The report focuses on BC’s publicly funded respite programs, which include programs in the community for seniors to go on a daily basis to be supported by trained care staff. An example of this is Adult Day Care programs. The second type of respite is by providing support in the home to take over some or all aspects of care provided. This would be having home support staff provide support in blocks of time during a week. The third is temporarily relocating the senior to a residential care bed for a period of time to provide a period of rest for the caregivers.

Over half of these seniors are considered complex. In other words, they require 24-hour care; however, because of a family caregiver, they are able to remain living in their home. It comes with a price, though; in order to keep them living in their home, unpaid caregivers are providing, on average, 24 hours of care per week.

Respite, or short-term relief, for caregivers from their duties, is essential. If there was a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for Caregiving, respite would be under the physiological needs; the ones that are required for survival.

Caregiver distress is real. The report highlights that 30% of all unpaid caregivers are in distress. Findings show that caregivers providing more than 20 hours of care per week are four times as likely to be in distress than caregivers providing 6 or fewer hours of care per week.

Seniors with behavioural challenges that are getting worse or who are significantly impaired cognitively equate to higher levels of caregiver distress.

Providing respite and decreasing the number of care provided by caregivers shows a direct relationship in lowering caregiver distress.

But here’s the kicker.

Seniors and their caregivers who could benefit from respite aren’t tapping into what is available, especially those with distressed caregivers. Page 11 of the report gives a breakdown of the data and findings.

There is a myriad of reasons to explain the lack of utilization ranging including transportation challenges, waitlists, the public system not keeping pace with the increased needs of BC’s aging population and seniors not being enrolled in home support programs.

The bottom line. We need to shift our thinking on how we place value on family caregivers and in particular, the most vulnerable cohort of unpaid caregivers – those in distress. These caregivers are making sacrifices to their own lives to provide care for their loved ones. As a province, we have a responsibility to care for them as much as for those they are caring for.


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“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC