Family members are carrying the majority of the burden when it comes to caring for Waterloo region's aging population, says a prominent home care researcher.

John Hirdes, the Ontario home care research chair and a professor at the University of Waterloo, says family members take on about three-quarters of home care needs, covering a large variety of tasks.

"They need help with bathing, meal preparation, transferring in and out of chairs, or such. They may need help with toileting, with tasks like getting around in the community, maintaining their home," said Hirdes in an interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Wednesday.

But that burden can be emotionally and physically draining for the carers.

Hirdes says family members providing care need to be supported through programs including social services and mental health counselling.

Elderly patients spending less time in hospital

Jane Meadus, a lawyer for Ontario's Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, says in some cases, family members aren't capable of offering adequate support.

"Don't assume that the person at home, who is providing the care, is a twenty-year-old with lots of energy. They need to provide enough care that the caregivers aren’t burning out either," said Meadus.

In addition to the burden on carers, the province's home-first policy is putting unexpected strains on other parts of the system.

Elderly patients are spending less time in hospital and not enough funds and services have been reallocated from hospitals to home care.

"Many people spend more time in the community recovering from hospital stay, and so home care is taking on a role in the recovery process that used to happen in the hospital system," said Hirdes.