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Caregivers: Unsung heroes of the pandemic

The Bottom Line

  • The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put pressures on all of us, but among all those affected since the start of the pandemic, one group has met incredible challenges: caregivers.
  • The pandemic brought a whole new array of preoccupations for caregivers who must keep the home as a safe and infection-free environment for their loved ones, which can be difficult and stressful.
  • If you are a caregiver, prepare a contingency in case you become ill or unable to provide care to your loved ones; find opportunities to share positive stories and acknowledge those in your circle of care; keep a regular and healthy routine; stay connected and maintain your social networks; and make sure to attend to your own needs.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put pressures on all of us. For instance, measures to prevent and control the spread of the infection like physical distancing, confinement and quarantine has clearly affected our social and professional life. Decisions to adapt the health and social systems to the pandemic (for example, closing ambulatory clinics, adapting cancer treatments, delaying elective procedures, or prioritizing the use of virtual care) has also affected our capacity to manage our health and care.

But among all those affected since the start of the pandemic, one group has met incredible challenges: caregivers.

Caregivers as a key pillar of health and social systems

In Canada, approximately one in four Canadians aged 15 and older (roughly 8 million people) are caregivers to friends or family with a long-term health condition or aging-related needs.(1) Caregivers have always been considered a key pillar of health and social systems since much of the burden of continuing care falls on them.(2)

Caregivers play many important roles: helping the care team identify the health and social care needs of older adults; taking notes and asking questions; providing emotional support; accompanying older adults to medical appointments; reporting or managing side effects; giving medication; keeping track of medicines, test results and papers; providing physical care (for example, feeding, dressing and bathing); coordinating home and community care, primary care and specialty care; advocating to access the necessary care; keeping family and friends informed; making legal and financial arrangements; and the list goes on...

And despite their crucial roles, caregivers often lack access to practical, social, emotional, and financial support.(3; 4) An Ontario report revealed that more than one in four individuals receiving care at home were relying on a caregiver who experienced “continued distress, anger or depression in relation to their caregiving role.”(5)

And then came the pandemic, which turned the lives of caregivers upside down and has made their roles even more complex. In a recent webinar, caregivers highlighted how the pandemic exacerbated their burden. They talked about the increased stress, burnout, depression, anxiety and isolation experienced since the beginning of the pandemic. They highlighted the difficulty of securing basic goods (for example, grocery shopping, cleaning supplies), as well as dealing with the reduction in health and social service available.

The pandemic also brought a whole new array of preoccupations for caregivers who must keep the home as a safe and infection-free environment for their loved ones, which can be difficult and stressful. Using masks and other personal protective equipment, maintaining physical distancing, disinfecting everything that home care provider touches remain complex. Caregivers may no longer be able to get help from the broader family/friend network outside the home due to concerns related to COVID-19. And concerns remain about home care providing coming into their home to provide service (where have they been, have they been exposed to COVID-19).

More than ever, we need one another

While we are only beginning to appreciate the impacts of COVID-19, many of these impacts may continue post-COVID.

If you are a caregiver, the Ontario Caregiver Organization has a few tips for you:
- prepare a contingency plan in case you become ill or unable to provide care to your loved ones;
- find opportunities to share positive stories and acknowledge those in your circle of care;
- keep a regular and healthy routine;
- stay connected and maintain your social networks; and
- make sure to attend to your own needs.

More than ever, we need one another. And more than ever, we need healthy caregivers with appropriate supports.

 

 

 

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Author Details

References

  1. Statistics Canada. Caregivers in Canada, 2018. Ottawa: Canada, 2020.

  2. Canadian Medical Association. Healthcare transformation in Canada: Change that works, care that last. Toronto, Canada: Canadian Medical Association, 2010.

  3. Kiran T, Wells D, Okrainec K, et al. Patient and caregiver experience in the transition from hospital to home - brainstorming results from group concept mapping: A patient-oriented study. CMAJ Open 2020; 8(1): E121-E33.

  4. Wilson M, Gauvin F, Ploeg J. Citizen brief: Improving care and support for unpaid caregivers in Ontario. Hamilton, Canada: McMaster Health Forum, 2014.

  5. Health Quality Ontario. Measuring up 2018: A yearly report on how Ontario’s health system is performing. Toronto: Canada: Health Quality Ontario, 2018.

DISCLAIMER: Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of these blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with current social distancing recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.

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