Father consoling son

Caregivers in Distress: A Growing Problem

By Dalia Gottlieb-Tanaka, PhD

As our population ages, the question is not if someone will be faced with the reality of caring for an elderly loved one, but when.

I received the report Caregivers in Distress: A Growing Problem on the same day our Society for the Arts in Dementia Care was rejected on a grant application for a workshop/retreat for burned-out caregivers of family members living with dementia. I think if I had left the word “retreat” out of the title, our chances would have increased for a positive response. In her report, Isobel Mackenzie, the Seniors Advocate of BC, confirms what we, the frontline services, have been complaining about for several years in Vernon. The problem of caregiver burnout is not unique to our area alone.

In its conclusions, the report stated that “over the last two years, distress among caregivers is increasing, while supports available to them such as respite and adult day programs are staying flat or decreasing.” (p.24)

The report recommended that in order to ensure programming that “appeals to, and is suitable for, a wide range of clients, there is a need for different types of programs to reflect the different needs of clients.” (p.21)

The narrow selection of programs for older adults in Vernon is mainly restricted to two centres. There are over 10,000 seniors living in Vernon and only 20 percent of them seek access to the offered programs.  We wanted to know what the other 80 percent would have liked to see happening in their community so we could attract them too. A separate proposal, submitted to the City of Vernon to conduct a survey, was rejected. At one centre, a recommendation to improve the existing programs by adding intellectual and educational activities was ignored. The health authority showed interest in our society and what it had to offer but nothing materialized after our request. Over 100 clients have used our services in the last four years. A core of 15 seniors stuck with the program and found it a very beneficial and life-altering experience.

More seniors would have joined our program if the fees were covered by the BC government. The cost to participate once a week in our program ($5.00) proved to be too expensive for some participants. I volunteered my time and our society partially helped support the cost of art materials. For a short while, we received some financial support from one centre but that was attached to some conditions that restricted our freedom to cover the cost of some of our activities, such as bringing a paper mache artist to work with us for a few days.

The exafamily visiting ill senior woman at hospitalmples mentioned here are not to point a finger of blame. It is merely to describe the lack of readiness to improve access and variety of programs that permeates relevant organizations, including potential consumers who do not see the value in the psychosocial approach of our society and others towards older people and people living with dementia.

In contrast, the Seniors’ Activity Centre in West Vancouver has all the elements of a very successful hub for a wide variety of activities, from woodworking and dancing to educational and intellectual activities; activities we can only envy. Even the program for seniors living with dementia, developed by the author, is rich in an assortment of activities. There, the program is subsidized by the government and successful grants with a minimal cost passed on to the seniors.

The report also recommends empowering caregivers by providing education and training. This would reduce the caregiver distress that leads to depression among family caregivers.

Here is an excerpt from the report that provides more statistical data to shed light on the caregiving status in BC:

“The report, Caregivers in Distress: A Growing Problem, is an update to a 2015 report that indicated 29% of unpaid caregivers are experiencing symptoms of distress such as anger, depression or feelings of not being able to continue with their caregiving duties. Data highlighted in the current report indicate rates of distress have increased by 7% to 31%.

Key findings of the report include:

  • In 2015/16, 31% of clients had a primary caregiver in distress. This is a 7% increase from the 2015 report.
  • Over this period, the actual number of primary caregivers who identified themselves as distressed increased by over 1,000; this represents a 14% increase in the actual number of caregivers in distress.
  • The number of home support clients accessing adult day programs decreased by 5% and the number of days delivered to these clients decreased by 2%.
  • The average hours of home support per day per client over 65 decreased by 5%, signaling less intensive service.”

Vernon could excel in providing a variety of programs, given the number of seniors it attracts from all over Canada with many skills, especially retired teachers and artists. Many are looking for part-time engagement with the community and some are looking for financial supplements. The government of BC could use this resource to help alleviate the caregiving condition in the province. The solutions are there; we just need a governing body to recognize the resources, bring them together, and make everyone involved a winner.

To read the full report, please check the following link: https://www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca/osa-reports/caregivers-in-distress-a-growing-problem-2/

 Dalia Gottlieb-Tanaka, PhD, lives in Vernon. She conceived and developed the award-winning Creative Expression Activities Program for seniors with dementia. She continues to deliver presentations and workshops in the US, Canada, Israel, and Europe. Dalia founded the Society for the Arts in Dementia Care in British Columbia and is the moving force behind the annual international conferences and workshops on creative expression, communication, and dementia (CECD). Dalia can be reached at dr.daliagt@gmail.com.

*Reprint from our Fall 2017 Issue.

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