August 27, 2010

CANADA: Alzheimer's caregivers suffer severe stress, depression

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VANCOUVER,  British Columbia / The Vancouver Sun / Health / August 27, 2010

Caregivers run high risk of anger and anxiety, Canadian Institute for Health Information study warns

By Carmen Chai and Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun

Philip Seth has been the primary caregiver to his 88-year-old mother and he is aware their situation is not likely to improve. Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, Vancouver Sun

Philip Seth is one of the two million Canadians providing informal care to an aged relative -- in Philip's case his 88-year-old mother.

On Thursday, the Canadian Institute for Health Information released the results of a study that showed one in six of Canada's informal care providers were experiencing severe stress.

And those like Seth taking care of people with Alzheimer's disease and other serious conditions ran the highest risk of feeling depression, anger and anxiety.

Seth's mom has dementia, suffers from deafness and has difficulties making herself understood, he said.

"But I consider myself lucky my mother is relatively high functioning, the difficulty is she's quite incoherent sometimes," said Seth, an only child and his mom's only caregiver, a role he seems to have had for as long as he can remember.

Nancy White, manager of home and continuing care development at the CIHI, said taking care of a senior can be "hectic and it can be really scary for the caregiver."

See video
Stressful job : CTV News Channel: Nancy White, manager
The manager of home and continuing development at the Canadian Institute for Health Information discusses the study. She says stress becomes a problem when the caregiver begins to feel they cannot continue their duties because they feel upset or frustrated.

The organization researched more than 130,000 seniors to compile two reports -- on Canadians' experiences with coping with informal care and helping seniors with Alzheimer's -- that were released Thursday. White said the reports are the "first snapshot looking at understanding what's going on in Canadian home care."

"This may be a sad story but it's an important story that families need to understand and the health care system can use these findings to prepare for the future," White said.

Seth admitted feeling frustrated.

"I'm not angry but I'm incredibly desperate. I have a feeling of despair. I look into the future and all I can see is a black hole. I know things are going to get worse. It's anticipatory dread -- feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and despair," he said.

Peter Silin of Vancouver's Diamond Geriatrics Inc., a private agency that provides services to seniors and family members, said adult children should be prepared to "look down the road" and see what type of help they will be able to give aging parents.

Silin says there's an expectation that the government is going to help out but with services reduced, a greater burden has been placed on family members to do the caregiving for the elderly.

He recommends that people find out in advance what resources and programs are available to help them.

"This will relieve some of the stress. There are lots of people like myself who can provide counselling and mediation services. They should contact the Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease societies for advice -- they have done all the legwork," he said.

As for the report's findings that one in six of the country's informal caregivers have trouble coping with anger, depression and anxiety, Silin said he was surprised it wasn't higher.

"One in six is a huge number but providing that kind of care can be really stressful. People need to think about their limits and boundaries and how exhausted they are willing to get before they will allow themselves to say 'You'll have to go into senior housing," he said.

"For children of aging parents, if they take them into their home they have to think how it might affect their marriage, what their tipping point is going to be and what are they prepared to sacrifice.

"When you are under stress it's harder to think these things through," he said.

"You have to learn to take care of yourself and sometimes some guilt and depression is unavoidable. Remember it's not your fault, it's just part of life," said Silin.

Only two per cent of Canadian seniors living at home didn't have support from a spouse, adult child, friend or neighbour. The majority received "critical" help at home with daily activities such as bathing, shopping and eating, the report said.

About 55 per cent of seniors in the study had help from a spouse while almost 75 per cent who were not married received care from an adult child. White said these percentages will grow as the number of families keeping elderly members at home steadily increases.

gbellett@vancouversun.com

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