Nova Scotia·health hacks

What you can do to support caregivers this Christmas

Taking care of a loved one who's sick can be all-consuming, and it often means caregivers forget about themselves, says health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton. She's encouraging people to take care of the people in their lives who take care of others.

'When you're a caregiver, there is no shift change. You're on 24/7,' says Mary Jane Hampton

More than eight million Canadians are known to provide some form of caregiving support. (Shutterstock)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

Taking care of a loved one who's sick can be all-consuming, and it often means caregivers forget about themselves, says Mary Jane Hampton.

That's why the health-care consultant, who is a caregiver herself, is encouraging us to take care of the people in our lives who take care of others.

It can be as simple as offering to step in and help, even for an hour or two. That's what Hampton's friend did recently when she posted an open offer on social media.

"She would offer to sit with a person who is being cared for so that her friend, the caregiver, could get an hour or two to do something just for themselves," Hampton told CBC's Information Morning.

"You would think that an hour or two isn't a big deal. It's a huge deal and that in my view is a much more valuable present than anything you could wrap up and put under a tree."

Hampton said as a caregiver, she knows how draining it can be, both physically and emotionally. (Robert Short/CBC)

Hampton said the stress that comes with caring for a loved one 24/7 ratchets up during the holidays.

"When you're a caregiver, there is no shift change," she said. "You're on 24/7, so you can begin to appreciate that level of anxiety gets multiplied by all the other expectations of the season." 

She said eight million Canadians are known to provide some form of caregiving support, and more than half also work full-time jobs. 

About 15 per cent of Canadians have been in the caregiver role for more than a decade, she added. 

Still, Hampton said our society doesn't do a good job of recognizing the tremendous contribution these "unsung heroes" make.

Giving the gift of time and support. In this week's health hack, Mary Jane Hampton talks about a different kind of Christmas present. 6:40

She said freeing up caregivers so they can do something as simple as have a bubble bath, go for a walk or take a quiet drive this holiday season is a small gesture that can have a big impact. 

"Just knowing that someone has your back, or acknowledges what you do so you're not a ghost in the health system … that will make such an enormous difference to someone's life," she said. 

She also has advice for caregivers.  

"Take a pause during the holiday season to acknowledge a milestone," she said. "You made it through another year, and as hard as being a caregiver is, you'll sign up do it all again."

READ MORE FROM OUR HEALTH HACK SERIES

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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