Nova Scotia

Unpaid caregivers in Nova Scotia plead for more money, help

Unpaid caregivers in Nova Scotia say the province should step up and give them more support, beyond the $400 a month given to low income households.

'There has to be more facility-based respite care,' says Angus Campbell

Ann Philpott has spend the last 12 years taking care of her husband Les Dencsecs, who is suffering from multiple forms of cancer. (David Burke/CBC)

Unpaid caregivers in Nova Scotia say the province should step up and give them more support, beyond the $400 a month given to low income households.

Ann Philpott has been looking after her 82-year-old husband, Les Dencsecs, for the last 12 years after he started to develop cancer.

"I have prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, I have cancer in my nose, I had a tumour," said Dencsecs. 

He also suffers from diabetic neuropathy, a side effect of severe diabetes which has damaged the nerves in his hands. That means Dencsecs can no longer hold anything — he said his hands are so weak he can't even take his debit card out of a bank machine.

All the work around the house is now Philpott's responsibility. 

"Grocery shopping, shovelling snow in the winter, all those little things — they're what causes you more worry than everything, really, because the doctor's can look after the health issues," said Philpott. 

Philpott still works part time as a caregiver at an assisted living residence. When she finishes her shift, she goes home to take care of Dencsecs.

"At times it's very stressful, especially on times when he's not that co-operative. He thinks he's a little bit more able than he is and he does things that he shouldn't actually do," she said. "So it's a little stressful on me."

Philpott said she can manage work and looking after Dencsecs most of the time, as long as her health holds. 

"I did have some health issues myself and that's the biggest thing. You got to look after yourself and that's really hard when you're working 12-hour back shifts and you come home and you have to spend the whole day in the hospital in emergency or whatever and you have to go to work that night too," she said.

"You're not getting your sleep and you're not eating properly and you've got all of your worries and everything, so that really brings you down."

Philpott said some extra money to help pay for day-to-day costs would be a big help.

The executive director of Caregivers Nova Scotia, an organization designed to support unpaid caregivers, said often they need more than just financial help.

"I think there has to be more facility-based respite care and this would allow caregivers to take a few days off," said Angus Campbell.

The province does offer respite care now, but Campbell said the program should be expanded. 

Despite concerns for her own health, Philpott doesn't take any time off. She also has no plans to put her husband into a long-term care facility. 

"It's up to the good man upstairs. I like to be busy, I find when I'm not busy I have time to think and I don't want to think about a lot of stuff right, so I keep myself busy," she said.