B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie (Black Press files)

Pressure increasing on senior caregivers

Home support hours decline, more burden on families

Unpaid family caregivers are taking more of the burden of seniors care as government home care and day program services decline, B.C. Seniors Advocate says.

Isobel Mackenzie released an update of her 2015 report on home care Wednesday, showing that family caregivers are facing more complex senior care needs such as dementia. With less government support in home care and adult daycare programs, 29 per cent of unpaid caregivers are experiencing distress such as anger, depression or feelings of not being able to continue providing care.

“This is a disturbing trend on its own when we think of the daily reality for all the sons, daughters, spouses, neighbours and friends who are dedicating hundreds of hours caring for loved ones,” Mackenzie said.

“However, there is even more cause for concern when we look at additional data in this report that indicate the frailty and complexity of those we are caring for at home is actually increasing, and the supports and services that can make an immense difference to the lives of caregivers are not keeping pace.”

Full report here

The report estimates that one million B.C. residents are involved in caring for a senior at home, which is nearly a quarter of the population of the province.

Half of patients cared for at home would fit the criteria for residential care. The report estimates that if all of the seniors cared for at home were transferred to residential care, the cost to the B.C. government would be more than $3 billion a year.

Mackenzie says there is a “disconnect” between what policy makers say about the need to support seniors at home and the diminishing resources being provided as the population ages.

“The data indicate that we’re not putting our money where our mouth is,” Mackenzie said. “Right now the incentives we’re providing are pushing people into residential care.”

Home caregivers have to lift seniors, give them baths and do other functions performed by trained caregivers in residential care. Part of their distress is that they don’t know what they’re doing and they’re concerned they’re not giving adequate care.

Mackenzie recommends expanding adult day programs beyond weekdays to evenings and weekends, to take some of the burden from family members. A further report is in the works on the need for more home visits, which she says are mostly limited to one hour a day and should be extended to up to four hours a day.

An hour a day is not adequate for a relative who is caring for a senior who can’t be left alone, Mackenzie said. They need to find another volunteer support person to support them, or pay out of pocket so they are able to do their banking, shopping and other daily chores.

The report doesn’t provide a dollar figure for the additional home support and daycare programs, but in general they are more cost-effective than placing seniors in residential care, Mackenzie said.

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