Caregivers need more than a national day of recognition

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marked National Carers Day in April - a day to recognize the many Canadians who do unpaid work looking after family members with chronic conditions and illnesses. But Laura Funk says caregivers need more than recognition - they need help.
Caregivers for people with conditions like Alzheimer's and dementia are often overwhelmed. (iStock)
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One in four people in Canada care for a loved one, friend or neighbour.  

And earlier this month the Prime Minister recognized the millions of Canadian caregivers who help support someone with in their lives, by declaring April 4th to be National Carers Day

But Laura Funk, an Associate Professor in sociology who studies aging and health care, says carers in this country need more than a day of recognition.  

Funk says one of the most common issues she hears from caregivers is the struggle to access formal care services for the person they are supporting — and she says that issue encompasses a complex and multifaceted problem. 

The quality and quantity of existing formal services is actually, I believe, a key determinant of carer stress. And the more integrated and transparent a system you have — the more coordination you have within that system — it becomes easier for caregivers to navigate.  And that's not currently the case with our existing healthcare systems — they are highly complicated and difficult to access.- Laura Funk

As a result of the critical role caregivers play, Funk says the health care systems have come to rely heavily on them.

"I would emphasize though, that even when these formal services are provided, it's not like the carer steps back and does nothing. In some ways they can step back and be the daughter instead of the caregiver, but they continue to be highly, highly involved in providing different kinds of support ...so it's not like they do nothing when formal services are in place."

Canada's aging population is real, but to Funk, it's not a reason to throw up our hands and say we can't do anything.  In fact, she says, there is a lot of good research to show that integrating and coordinating health care can be both more cost-effective and helpful to older adults and their families. 

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