As recent winners of the “Who Cares? Contest (a collaboration between Caregivers Alberta, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, and Bayshore Home Health), three Alberta caregivers each won a hotel getaway at a Fairmont property, a $250 gas card and 40 hours of respite or home care. The contest was created to draw attention to role of caregiver in the healthcare system and, judging by the huge response, it's an area of care that needs more attention--and a whole lot more respite--according to Darrel Gregory, executive director of Caregivers Alberta.
Though a weekend away can't address all, Gregory says winning the contest, "allows caregivers the opportunity for self-care; to take a break from the burden of care which in many cases is a daily responsibility. The informal caregiver is vital to better health outcomes for the care recipient, but it's a role that has cost attached. Caregivers are often fatigued, overwhelmed and stressed."
“Through this contest, we also wanted to draw attention to the role of the caregiver within the healthcare system. We want our healthcare professionals to bring purpose and intentionality in involving informal caregivers in the care of the patient and care recipient.”
Nominations for deserving caregivers poured in from over 4,700 Albertans--inspiring and heartwarming stories like that of Linda Roper's. Caregiver for her husband Douglas (who has dealt with Crohn's disease for 52 years), Linda manages diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure and cancer with not many quiet moments to herself.
"These past three years have been so difficult; I also had to be primary caregiver to my sister (palliative during COVID-19), and then my mother-in-law," she said. "Receiving this prize, being able to get away will be such a blessing."
“I have no regular respite. We had four children and I also worked full-time, so taking the dogs for walks and ending the day with a bubble bath helped reduce my stress. The contest brought to my attention how poorly I have been looking after myself. This may be the wake-up call to take better care of myself and utilize respite more often," Roper said.
Contest winner Andy Leddington (who wasn't available for comment) cares for his wife, Jill; is a proud member of the Alberta law enforcement community; and is a veteran who served 25 years in the Royal Navy.
As many family caregivers are adult children helping aging parents, contest winner Colleen Murray is more of a rarity. Caring for her 25-year-old son William, who has had a mitochondrial disease since age seven, Murray says that like Roper, she has never used respite and so donated back part of her winnings, the 40 hours of respite, so someone else could have it.
"Being a caregiver for someone else means you put all your own needs aside. You never sleep through the night, always having one ear open and one eye," she said.
“Caregivers do not turn the role on and off with the flip of a switch. Demands are often 24/7, unpredictable, and physically and emotionally exhausting, and the impact can result in negative outcomes for the caregiver, including sickness and decreased health," said Gregory. "Caregivers may have to take time off work, change jobs or even leave the workforce altogether. Respite helps alleviate some of these concerns. If we can figure out how to address respite more holistically, instead of just a “weekend getaway,” we will all be further ahead.”
When caring for my own aging parents, I focused on their needs first but realized the importance of taking regular respite. These breaks don’t have to be as extravagant as a few nights away in a luxurious hotel; they can be anything a family caregiver chooses: participating in a hobby, exploring the museum, asking another family member to help out, or treating yourself to an ice cream sundae are just a few ideas. I chose to write and walk and found both activities to be excellent means of coping.