September 2, 2010

CANADA: Canadians report stress looking after elderly family members

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OTTAWA,  Ontario / The Ottawa Citizen /  Health / September 2, 2010

By Carmen Chai, Postmedia News

There are more than two million informal caregivers in Canada and one in six say the responsibilities they are faced with lead to difficulty with coping and feelings of anger, depression and anxiety, said Nancy White, manager of home and continuing care development at the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Photograph by: David McNew, Getty Images

Canadians providing informal care to seniors are experiencing severe stress, and those taking care of family members with Alzheimer's disease or other serious impairment are most at risk of foul feelings, new Canadian studies show.

There are more than two million informal caregivers in Canada and one in six say the responsibilities they are faced with lead to difficulty with coping and feelings of anger, depression and anxiety, said Nancy White, manager of home and continuing care development at the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

"Taking care of a senior can be hectic and it can be really scary for the caregiver. There is some stress because they have to help with medications, and that can be intimidating for another senior who has no experience with the illness," White said.

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.

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.

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.

"People always feel better in their own homes where there are familiar surroundings and loved ones. Many have been in their homes for years and years and they're surrounded by . . . pets, photos and neighbours and that's good for the soul," she said.

But CIHI research revealed spouses were twice as likely to feel stress compared to other family members providing care.

In many cases, a senior's difficulty with memory, understanding and decision-making caused the hardships. Caregivers were three times more frustrated when the senior needing care had Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.

If the stress builds, family members providing support could become unable to continue in their role, which could lead to institutionalization, potentially for the home care client — and the caregiver, if he or she is also a senior, the report warned.

Elaine Villeneuve, who lives near Cornwall, Ont., has looked after her husband, Noble, for the last nine years after he suffered a stroke.

"There's no way my husband would want to be in a nursing home. It takes a lot of patience to always keep an eye on him, and it runs out if you're really tired," she said.

Home care helpers come to the Villeneuve home six mornings a week for about an hour to bathe and dress Noble. Elaine gets a five-hour break on Tuesdays and Thursdays but the time is usually spent grocery shopping and running errands.

"It's a very demanding job, and it's exhausting and you're rarely ever free," Villeneuve said.

White said families taking care of seniors at home should be aware of programs available to help, including organizations that send care workers to the home to give others a day off.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

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