According to a new Doctors of B.C. report, family caregivers take on the bulk of the work caring for aging family members, but are often invisible in the system.
The advocacy group found family caregivers provide 70 to 75 per cent of care in Canada, and in B.C., the majority of individuals care for a chronically ill or disabled senior.
"They do an enormous amount of unpaid caregiving," said Dr. Romayne Gallagher, chair of the Doctors of B.C.'s Geriatrics and Palliative Care Committee.
"This could be driving somebody to appointments, getting prescriptions, helping out with day to day activities. All these kinds of things that magically get done by family caregivers."
She said this burden on family members — and other close caregivers like friends and neighbours — is only going to grow as B.C.'s population ages.
"[Some caregivers] get stressed, depressed or anxious. Don't forget they're also dealing with the emotional issues, particularly if they're seeing someone physically or mentally or cognitively decline from this illness," explained Gallagher.
New guide for doctors
As part of the research, she said the group is developing a resource guide for physicians to help identify caregivers and involve them in care planning.
Gallagher said the guide will encourage physicans to recognize caregivers and monitor their physical and mental well-being, and suggest support and counselling if necessary.
She adds the group has also made several policy recommendations including increasing the availability of respite care — which can provide a break for family caregivers.
The group is also advocating for more funding for caregivers, she said, pointing out financial insecurity can add to the stress of caregivers.
With files from The Early Edition
To hear the interview, click on the link labelled Doctors of B.C. report puts the spotlight on family caregivers