The number of caregivers is expected to increase dramatically in the next decade as an estimated 9.5 million Canadians reach age 65 and over. We are at a critical point where taking steps to ensure they will be supported for the challenges that lie ahead are needed.
Janet Fast, professor and research director of aging, policies and practice at the University of Alberta, has studied caregiving in Canada for more than 25 years. She investigates the negative consequences of caring for loved ones and examines what can be done to mitigate them. Her background as an applied economist also leads her to look at the financial impact as well.
“We know the majority of caregivers are employed,” she says, “and that they experience employment consequences, including absenteeism, [job] turnover and what’s referred to in the human resource management literature as presenteeism – being at work but distracted by other things.”
With a greater demand for caregivers, she identifies a big area of concern. “I don’t think we’ll see the types of challenges changing, but I do see them increasing in intensity,” she says. “At the same time, we’re seeing a shrinking supply of available care that’s not keeping up with demand. We are in the midst of a ‘care crunch.’”
Along with budget constraints for formal care, fuelling this shortfall are societal changes like smaller family sizes, more childless couples and women opting not to get married and/or have children, meaning fewer carers to take care of family members and loved ones.
“We could be doing a whole lot better,” Fast notes. “Not just governments, but employers could be supporting caregivers more to help them maintain employment while they are providing care. Otherwise, they are at greater risk of burn out. They may leave their paid work or reduce their working hours and that reduces not just their current income but future income as well. They’re going be the poor and sick seniors of tomorrow.”
Companies could offer more flexible work hours and a willingness to accommodate the needs of caregivers. Canada has a compassionate care leave of up to 26 weeks available to caregivers providing end-of-life care. As Fast points out, this pertains only to a very small minority of carers. She’d like to see leave extend beyond compassionate care to other types that could be universally available across the country.
She also feels that more long-term care beds are necessary. “Even more urgently, we need more and better home care. Carers can only do so much and there’s very strong evidence that if you bring in support services early on, you’ll extend the amount of time that caregivers can hang in there and delay institutionalization of those they care for.”
Technology will continue to help caregivers overcome challenges, Fast says. “It’s not going to solve all the problems, but I think it can be very helpful. There are technologies out there already that would be beneficial to care – things like smartphone or tablet apps that allow them to better manage the care situation.”
“Caregivers have their own health needs and someone needs to check in with them to make sure they’re in an okay place…”
– Mark Stolow, HUDDOL
Mark Stolow, founder and CEO of Huddol, an online platform that connects caregivers with peer and expert guidance, has seen firsthand how technology can assist caregivers. He also recognizes the crucial part that online resources recommended by pharmacists can play.
“Caregivers have their own health needs and someone needs to check in with them to make sure they’re in an okay place – mentally, physically and emotionally,” Stolow explains. “Pharmacists recognize they will need a lot of support in the process of being a caregiver.” They can also offer resources to help manage care, ease isolation and boost the confidence of caregivers to carry out their duties.
A key piece in the caregiver-pharmacist relationship is education. Some caregivers aren’t aware of the full range of services pharmacists offer. “How knowledgeable are they about all the things that the pharmacists can do for them that they might not have to wait a doctor for?” he asks. “Like adjusting meds, side effects or learning more about the disease that might have required booking an appointment with a doctor who may takes months to see. A pharmacist can help without the wait. There’s a lot of empowerment for a caregiver in knowing someone is invested in making sure everything goes smoothly.”
To assist pharmacists in recognizing the needs of caregivers and to learn how best to support them, Teva Canada offers accredited training on how to become a caregiver-friendly pharmacy. To date, more than 1,000 pharmacists across Canada have been accredited. To find a pharmacy that is ready to care for carers, refer to the map available at TevaCanada.com/Caregivers. “The feedback has been very positive in terms of the quality of the accredited training, the tools that they’re receiving to be able to work with caregivers and to have practical resources to give them,” says Stolow.
Among those downloadable resources are the caregiver handbook, worksheets for tracking and sharing support systems, a caregiver self-assessment form, a pharmacy checklist and even a proxy for allowing a loved one to authorize caregivers to talk to pharmacies and healthcare professionals about their medical condition.
“One of the things we’re trying to address in the program is just really orienting pharmacists to the lives of caregivers,” Stolow explains. “What does their life look like? They’re not used to seeing the caregiver’s reality through the lens of their practice. It’s key to this program to help them learn the vocabulary of care so that they can more readily recognize caregivers and be able to start a conversation.”
With the number of caregivers set to increase in coming years, pharmacists have an opportunity to play a pivotal role. The data says that half of caregivers think it is the role of pharmacists to provide information about caregiving. As Stolow points out: “It’s a very important time now that pharmacies are primed to respond to that reality.”
With caregivers facing a number of challenges, there are many viable solutions from compassionate leave to support from pharmacists available to help them do one of the most important unpaid jobs there is – caring for loved ones.