Nova Scotia·Special Report

Unpaid caregivers say they are abandoned by family and friends

Some unpaid caregivers are speaking up about the way they’ve been treated by their family and friends.

Cape Breton caregivers suffer social isolation as they are left to care for elderly parents

Richard Young is his mother's live-in caregiver. His friends and family have cut off almost all contact with him since he began looking after this mother. (David Burke/CBC)

Two and a half years ago, when Blanche Robinson took on the role of unpaid caregiver to her 83-year-old father, she says the home care staff assigned to aid with his care were a great support.

The problem, she says, was her own family. They refused to step up, she says, as she took on the physically and emotionally taxing role of caring for her father and watch him decline with dementia, diabetes and mobility problems.

"Once one person steps up to the plate and takes care, well then everybody else kind of disappears," the New Victoria, Cape Breton, woman tells CBC News. "'Oh don't worry because so and so's got it covered.' Sad but true."

She's not alone. Caregivers Nova Scotia, an organization designed to help unpaid caregivers, says stress and social isolation are two of the top negative health outcomes reported by family and friend caregivers. 

Robinson recently placed her father in long-term care. It's a decision that broke her heart, she says, especially since her father hates being in the nursing home.

Feelings of guilt

"It makes me upset, obviously," Robinson says. "Who likes to hear their father cry? Not me. Makes me feel guilty. I have no guilt because I've gone beyond the call of duty.

Blanche Robinson was an unpaid caregiver to her father. She says her family and friends should have done more to help her. (Submitted Photo)

"I've done more than 80 per cent of the population would ever do. Does that stop you from feeling it? No. Never."

In Glace Bay, Richard Young splits his time between caring for his 88-year-old mother, and tending to his daughter, Lindsay, who lives in a long-term care facility after she suffered brain damage in a car accident.

"My whole life revolves around my mother, and taking care of the house and her needs, and my daughter," Young says. "I don't have a social life. I'm like most caregivers after a while, you get in this rut or whatever and that's where you stay."

Despite being run ragged, Young says he has no plans to put his mother into a nursing home: "I've spoken to my mother about that sort of thing, and I have a better chance of me going into a nursing home. She isn't going anywhere." 

Both Young and Robinson say they believe the stress involved with caregiving would be lessened if their families and friends helped out, even in some small way.

"You need an ear, somebody to talk to," said Young. "It's kind of embarrassing to say, but you really have no friends anymore. All you have is your home and the hospital. That's all you have."


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