Recent events have highlighted the critical role that caregivers play in Canada in ways not fully understood previously. During COVID-19, carers have stepped up to be present for their loved ones when other forms of support were limited or unavailable due to the pandemic. It is the ultimate act of love with sacrifices and rewards.
The need for caregiving has increased, along with the demand for resources available to lessen the burden of caregivers. Teva Canada has responded by increasing its commitment to creating helpful tools and services for Canada’s 8 million unpaid caregivers providing care to a loved one with a physical, cognitive or mental health condition. Their needs are unique. Caregiving is not a homogenous entity – so much depends on individual circumstances, the health challenges faced and the bandwidth of caregivers themselves.
Addressing the unique needs of caregivers
A Statistics Canada national survey on family care identified five distinct caregiving trajectories. It looked at the age of first care experience, number of care episodes, total years of care and amount of overlap serial care. It showed what many caregivers know – no two caregiving experiences are the same, making it necessary for support to be tailored to individual journeys.
Those journeys have changed because of COVID. “Before the pandemic, the challenge for caregivers was growing,” says Ron Beleno, an active advocate for dementia, caregiving, aging and research communities. “The education and awareness that caregivers needed were not there. They needed support, but the system was not keeping up. Now with COVID, it’s that much more challenging.”
There have been some small benefits, he says. Some families don’t have to pay for a personal care worker since they may have someone at home working due to COVID. “But that same person may be struggling,” he adds. “They carry a heavier burden – mentally, physically and emotionally. And caregivers now realize how many gaps in the system there are that need to be fixed moving forward. When I do lectures, I always say, ‘When you spread the stress, you’ll increase caring success.’ That’s an issue for many since caregivers are functioning with less support. That’s where a lot of the stress is happening right now.”
Caring for someone with COVID
With more than 200,000 COVID cases in Canada to date, many people have responded to the crisis by becoming caregivers for loved ones infected by the coronavirus. In this role, carers need to protect themselves, others living in their home and their community. Tips from Health Canada include safety protocols to limit exposure and spread of the disease. They include having just one healthy person – someone without chronic medical conditions, like diabetes or heart disease that increase the risk of serious complications due to COVID – to provide care. They should not share items, such as towels and utensils, or a bathroom (if possible) with an ill person.
Contact with someone who is sick should be managed carefully, especially when caregivers who come within two metres of that person. Masks, gloves and eye protection are recommended. Masks and gloves should be disposed of and not reused. Hands must be cleaned often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, then dried with a disposable paper towel.
To create a clean environment, caregivers should dispose of contaminated items (gloves and masks) in a lined container and high-touch surfaces should be wiped daily with household disinfectants, or diluted bleach (one part bleach to nine parts water). Don’t forget to disinfect touch screens on smartphones and tablets, with wipes containing 70% alcohol. The laundry of an infected person should be washed separately from that of the caregiver and other members of the household.
Carers should look after their health, too, and get adequate rest, take breaks and eat well. If they’ve come in direct contact with body fluids from an ill person, perhaps they were sneezed on while not wearing a mask, contact the local public health authority. If symptoms arise, self-isolate right away and seek advice from your healthcare provider or public health authorities.
Tapping into essential resources
COVID underscores the need for building multi-faceted caregiving support systems, which includes pharmacists. Teva has continued to expand its Caregiver Friendly Pharmacy Program, now with more than 2,000 credentialed pharmacists in Canada. The program features customized screening tools to help identify the caregivers of a loved one with dementia, so pharmacists can start a conversation about how they can help and be a trusted ally in care.
Furthermore, Teva has created a comprehensive guide for caregivers looking after someone with dementia. It outlines practical approaches on how carers can still live their best lives while they provide care. It covers the need for an occasional respite – a break from daily routines to recharge and destress. It also talks about creating a network of friends, family, neighbours and community organizations to lend a hand. The guide addresses burnout, a common issue among caregivers, and how to avoid it, plus offers advice on how to communicate clearly with healthcare providers.
Carers supporting cancer patients can find invaluable tips and advice through Teva’s new 10-episode audio podcast series. Each podcast is less than eight minutes long and addresses topics integral to cancer patients and their caregivers, such as managing pain, sleep and rest, diet, effects of treatments, sexuality, self-care and communication. Each day, 600 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer. Aside from the physical effects of the disease, there are emotion ones, too. It’s essential to address and understand those aspects. The podcasts recognize them both.
Clearly, it’s a challenging time for Canadian caregivers. Teva Canada is committed to supporting caregivers by providing them with resources and tools to make their care journey easier.
Essential resources available from Teva Canada
- A comprehensive guide for caregivers looking after those with dementia
- 10-episode, audio podcast series for cancer patients and carers
- Cancer care guide
- Watch the Acts of Love video here
- A website focused on caregivers
Presented through a sponsorship from Teva Canada.