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Who are the caregivers?

The Canadian Study of Health and Aging found that the vast majority of family caregivers for the elderly are women, usually wives (24 per cent) or daughters (29 per cent). Most of these caregivers are getting on themselves: half were over 60 and 36 per cent were over 70. Caregivers spent an average of 44 to 63 hours on caregiving, with the higher end taken up by dementia patients.

Why are we facing a caregiving crunch?

Several social patterns are working to reduce the pool of family caregivers. As the population grows older, fewer spouses will be alive to take care of their partners. Women more often have jobs outside of the home, making it harder for them to care for their parents. And they are having their own children later, so often still have kids at home when their parents begin to need care, creating a “sandwich generation” of boomers trying to balance it all. And these women can also become what’s called “serial caregivers,” caring for children, then senior parents or in-laws, then an aging spouse. With no break or time to themselves, they can burn out easily. Families are also smaller, with fewer siblings to share the care of older parents, and these days they are often living far apart.

What will be the impact of the expected rising rates of dementia on caregiving?

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada’s Rising Tide report, the demand for home care among dementia patients alone will be overwhelming in the next few years. They estimated that in 2008, 55 per cent of Canadians over 65 with dementia were living in their own homes, and thus requiring home or community supports, and by 2038, 62 per cent of Canadians over 65 with dementia were expected to want to live in their own homes — an increase of more than half a million people — placing greater demands on family caregivers and neighbourhood services. The amount of unpaid caregiver hours spent looking after people with dementia alone is expected to triple, from 231 million hours in 2008 to 756 million hours in 2038.

According to the national Alzheimer society, family caregivers looking after someone with dementia are apt to spend 75 per cent more time caregiving than those taking care of relatives with other medical issues. 

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