Executive Director for Caregivers Alberta, Sandy Sereda, wanted to recognize our province's family and professional caregivers, but she faced two roadblocks: reaching caregivers across the province and accommodating for COVID-19 restrictions. Her answer was the first-ever Caregivers Together Conference. The concept took form, and the event took place virtually in May, which also happens to be Caregivers Awareness Month.
“We wanted to create a stake in the ground during Caregivers Awareness Month," said Sereda. "These are some of the issues we hear about on our caregiver support line every day.”
Conference workshops for both family and professional caregivers looked at issues like balancing work and caregiving; tools for finding seniors services in the community; managing the care recipient’s affairs, and more. For professional caregivers, the conference offered workshops on how to help when it's time to consider long-term care; the caregiver role in palliative care; and doing double-duty--acting as a caregiver at work and home.
“There is a gap between what family caregivers need and what they receive from the healthcare system," Sereda said. "Family/friend caregivers need to be identified and recognized within a care provider’s practice. Further, they need to be communicated with, and partnered within the best interests of the care recipient.”
Andre Picard, health columnist and author of "Neglected No More", told conference-goers "about what the pandemic taught us about the need to reform long-term care and by extension, home care. No one suffered more during COVID-19 than elders, particularly those in institutional care. Rates of death were extremely high in care homes because of poor infection control and outdated facilities," said Picard. "But residents also suffered because family caregivers were locked out. What we witnessed was a massacre of neglect and the only way to prevent that from happening again is broad, systemic reform."
"But I underline that many care homes weather COVID well, evidence that we have the knowledge and ability to fix the eldercare system. We just need to implement what we know."
“The pandemic didn’t break eldercare. It was already broken. It’s largely unappealing and it’s also expensive," he added. "People want the choice to age in place, to remain living in the community, but they are too often sent to institutions. Similarly, families want to care for their loved ones at home but are often overwhelmed because they don’t have adequate support like home care and respite care. We have to find a way to integrate eldercare into the Medicare system to ensure no one is denied the essential care they need, particularly in their final years.”
Picard acknowledges it requires that professional and family caregivers work together to find solutions to common problems. “I have been a caregiver to aging parents and I recognize that, at some point, almost all of us are going to be caregivers and care recipients. But my interest in largely professional; as someone who has been writing about Canadian healthcare for 40 years, I recognize elders are an important demographic. We need to build and maintain an eldercare system--and a health system more broadly--that meets their needs.”
Though the Caregivers Together Conference was a hit, "we had 260 participants from across Alberta," said Sereda, she and her Caregivers Alberta staff will continue identifying, supporting, and advocating for family caregivers as well as build an event to continue annually. “We will hold another conference next May when [we] will amplify the valuable role of family/friend caregivers within our province.”
See www.caregiversalberta.ca for more.
Caregiving in Alberta
- Nearly two in five Albertans have been a caregiver at some point in their lives--that’s 1.3 million people
- Alberta caregivers are all ages, though most (32 per cent) are 30 to 49, followed by those 50 to 64.
- Caregivers in Alberta spend an average of 15.1 hours per week helping others. That's about 619-million hours of unpaid care per year.
- Most caregivers in Alberta support people living with physical disabilities and age-related needs.