British Columbia

Family caregivers in B.C. feeling more depressed, angry: report

More than 30 per cent of primary caregivers in the province feel distressed, according to Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie.

More than 30 per cent of primary caregivers in the province feel distressed, according to seniors advocate

B.C.'s seniors advocate says unpaid caregivers with home support in the province are increasingly distressed. (Lighthunter/Shutterstock)

A new report from B.C.'s seniors advocate says more and more family caregivers are feeling distressed in their role, despite receiving home support — some to the point of feeling as though they can't keep up with their duties. 

More than 31 per cent of caregivers in that category felt angry or depressed, according to the 2016 findings released Wednesday — up from 29 per cent in 2015.

At the same time, the report said supports available to those caregivers are less accessible than they were two years ago.

Isobel Mackenzie, the province's first-ever seniors advocate, called it a "disturbing trend."

"The frailty and complexity of those we are caring for at home is actually increasing, and the supports and services that can make an immense difference to the lives of caregivers aren't keeping pace," she said in a statement.

Pauline Wong, right, has been caring for her elderly mother for several years. (CBC News)

'Me, I'll worry about later'

For Vancouver's Pauline Wong, the hardest part of caring for an 86-year-old mother with dementia is worrying about her safety.

"Dealing with the emotional side is more difficult than anything else," Wong told CBC News.

"It does create things like stress, it makes my medical conditions worse. As I tell my doctor, I need to focus on her first. Me, I'll worry about later."

The best relief comes on days when Wong's mother attends an adult day centre. She has secured two days a week through government funding, and another two privately.

Wong said she would like to see more government support for programs like this.

"When I leave mom at the adult centre, emotionally I am in a better place, because I know she's safe," she said.

1M family caregivers provincewide

There are about one million "informal" caregivers in the province, according to Statistics Canada. They are predominantly family members caring for their mothers, fathers, spouses or adult children. 

This year's report focused on the 26,310 who are receiving publicly subsidized home support.

In order to receive that support, caregivers and the person they're caring for are assessed by a case manager. The official asks the caregiver a series of questions, and an algorithm with the interRAI Home Care Assessment System (RAI) determines their level of "distress." 

Duties can range from small tasks like picking up groceries to providing primary, around-the-clock care. Mackenzie said the paid value of family caregivers across the province is about $3.5 billion.

In B.C., Adult Day Programs (ADP) and in-home supports are available to help those caregivers — but the report found the number of clients using both of those services has dropped by five per cent.

Isobel Mackenzie was named B.C.'s first Seniors Advocate in 2015. (Province of British Columbia)

This, the advocate said, is partly due to a lack of promotion and spaces available. In particular, Mackenzie said the home support service levels simply aren't keeping up with B.C.'s growing seniors population.

"The importance of maximizing supports can't be underestimated when we consider costly alternatives such as residential care or hospital stays," she said.

Statistics Canada's latest census data showed that B.C. has some of the oldest communities in the country, with four municipalities with the most seniors in the country: Qualicum Beach, Parksville, Osoyoos and Sidney.

The Canadian population has experienced its greatest increase in the proportion of older people since Confederation, with 5.9 million seniors compared to 5.8 million people 14 and under.