Our society simply would not function without family caregivers. Approximately 75% of care across the country is provided by unpaid caregivers, saving Canadian healthcare systems billions of dollars. This figure represents eight million Canadians who dedicate their lives to their loved ones, averaging 19 hours of providing care per week.
However, these caregivers are often frustrated and overwhelmed. They often go unrecognized and unsupported even though they play an integral role in supporting relatives, friends, and neighbours.
A new charitable foundation — The Petro-Canada CareMakers Foundation — aims to change that by providing grants to charitable organizations that support family caregivers.
“The dedication of family caregivers is unshakable,” said Leila Fenc, Executive Director of the Petro-Canada CareMakers Foundation. “But it comes at a cost. Sixty percent (60%) of caregivers say they struggle to manage being there for those who need them, while also managing their jobs as well as their own family responsibilities and personal commitments.”
Among other things, family caregivers provide transportation, meal preparation, and housekeeping. They schedule appointments, help with medications, and provide emotional support.
“A caregiver never stops caring and we want to recognize and support the work they do every day because it makes our communities stronger,” Fenc continued. “Awareness of what caregivers are going through, and the aid they provide, needs to be raised so that we can have a national conversation about how best to help those who help so many.”
Many caregivers do not self-identify as “caregivers” for different reasons. First, many do not feel like they have a choice in assuming a caregiver role, viewing it instead as a familiar or cultural expectation or natural progression in their role as adult, child, partner or parent. Similarly, shifting into a caregiver role may be a long and gradual process without a clear starting point. This, along with a natural resistance to view oneself as a caregiver as it can be an emotionally-laden term, can be confusing to people providing care.
Here are three signs a caregiver in your life needs support, even if they don’t identify as a caregiver.
Caregivers work multiple full-time jobs, having to split their time and attention between providing care, working, attending school, and whatever else demands space in their lives. This can lead to perpetual burnout.
“Being a caregiver, one of the biggest challenges is being able to care for myself,” said Kevin, father to two children with neurological disorders, on the CareMakers website. “There have been a lot of times I haven’t been well enough to be at work, and there have definitely been times when my children were in the hospital and I probably shouldn’t have been at work.”
If you’ve noticed that someone in your life seems to go through a constant cycle of working too hard, becoming completely exhausted, and going through emotional distress, they probably have too much on their shoulders. Consider reaching out to ask them how they’re doing and how you can support them.
Caring people might even sacrifice work to keep helping others, putting them under financial stress. If they help cover medical expenses for the person or people they’re caring for, it can be even more anxiety-inducing. Medical bills pile up fast, and debt can wreck nerves and damage our physical and mental health.
The CareMakers Foundation also provides grants to local, registered charities that offer services to family caregiving organizations to enhance and amplify their work. This kind of financial support can make a world of difference for people who have to stay home to look after their loved ones, missing out on potential work in the meantime.
According to Statistics Canada, 43% of caregivers reported missing work, 15% cut down their hours, and 10% passed up a promotion or new job. They may also help cover expenses associated with care like medical bills and groceries. Grants help alleviate that burden so caregivers can focus on what they do best: Providing compassionate care.
The organization, with the help of Petro-Canada, has already provided support to Baycrest Foundation, Community Care City of Kawartha Lakes, Association of Neighbourhood Houses BC, and Circle of Care at Mt. Sinai. These groups are dedicated to supporting caregivers through education, transportation, or opportunities to connect with other caregivers.
Because it can be so isolating and challenging to provide care, caregivers might not seem like their “usual selves.” If they seem exhausted, uninterested, distant, and disengaged, it might be because of the perpetual burnout and financial stress they’re dealing with — on top of the emotional labour of caring for someone who can’t care for themselves.
“When people are in the role of caregiving, it’s not something that they’re trained for. It just happens to you,” said Bruce on the CareMakers website. Bruce cared for his wife with lung and brain cancer and dementia, as well as his two young daughters. “It was something I wasn’t prepared to do and it really stretched my abilities to cope.”
Through organizations partially supported by the CareMakers Foundation, they can join support groups and get access to other resources to help them feel better.
Fenc said spreading awareness about caregivers is essential to making changes that improve their quality of life, and that the CareMakers Foundation is just getting started on that work.
“It’s a journey we need to undertake because looking out for each other and taking care of each other is a fundamental Canadian trait. We need to make sure the ones who do the caring are being cared for too,” she added.
“Caring for those who care for others is a natural fit for us. It is core to our purpose, and through our Petro-Canada associates and marketers, it’s also how we Live By The Leaf every day,” said Mark Little, President and Chief Executive Officer of Suncor, the proud owner of Petro-Canada. “The work supported by the Petro-Canada CareMakers Foundation will positively impact our employees, our customers, and Canadians from coast to coast to coast.”
For more information about the Petro-Canada CareMakers Foundation or to donate, please visit caremakers.ca.