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Why aren’t family caregivers asking for help?

Why don't caregivers ask for help, and where can they turn when they do?
Many caregivers go it alone because they don't know about resources available to them. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

It seems logical to accept help when needed; but many family caregivers try to go it alone. 

Is it due to a shortage of Canadian care giving resources? No, explains Carole Ann Alloway--a retired human rights specialist and mediator. “Some provinces offer help lines, newsletters, peer support groups and webinars, while others see caregivers donating their time to a minimum of support activities.” 

"Joining a caregiver support group is immensely helpful”, said Alloway. “These people have been in your shoes and can guide you through the healthcare system, offer a shoulder and give advice. Help lines are critical too, when you have a question and don’t know where to turn, while webinars can address a number of topics, like where/how to get financial assistance.”

Alloway said the biggest reason caregivers don’t access resources is they don’t know about them. "Much more could be done--hospitals and home care could be required to give support information upon discharge. Social workers and family physicians need to be educated on the role of and supports for the caregiver too."

It can also take time to research resources, when family caregivers don’t have it to spare. Alloway said caregivers have a lot on their plates, and taking time for themselves and away from a loved one can make them feel guilty. "Education on the importance of self-care is critical too."

Family caregivers may shrug off help as they don’t always identify themselves as caregivers, explains Lynn Podgurny, Director of Operations of Calgary’s Kerby Centre. “A family caregiver may be the daughter/son or spouse of the person needing care but they don’t actually perceive themselves as a ‘category’ even though they might be providing hundreds of hours of care every year," she said. "People doing the most family care giving often don’t perceive of themselves as doing anything unusual: It is their parent or spouse, so of course they are providing care.”

Caregivers can also find the system complex and overwhelming, adds Podgurny. “The recipient may be accessing services at a number of different points: transportation, a doctor’s office, in a hospital, non-profit or a housing organization, and so on. It becomes very confusing for the caregiver.”

There are other reasons why a family caregiver will refuse help. These include being viewed as selfish and/or uncommitted by siblings (not wanting to accept care giving responsibilities wholly), guilt tripping (by the senior, other family), the financial cost (not being able to afford outside services), control (no one else can do a better job), and lack of trust (being unwilling to delegate work to others). 

A family caregiver will be the best choice for certain tasks, but that person can access outside help. Arguably, the senior will gain as well by receiving experienced and possibly safer care (a family caregiver may not be skilled in many procedures).

As they say, many hands make light work. When family caregivers ask for help, the job becomes much easier. 

Where can family caregivers find help? Here are a few recommendations: 

Caregivers Alberta (headquartered in Edmonton but operating province-wide): 1-877-453-5088 / 

403-Seniors (Calgary): (403) 736-4677 / 

Kerby Centre (Calgary): (403) 265 -0661 / 

211 Alberta: Call 2-1-1 / 


Rick Lauber has written Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide (published by Self-Counsel Press) as valuable resources for prospective, new, and current caregivers. As Alberta Prime Times’ Caregiver Coach, Lauber shares caregiving news, thoughts, and insights on a bi-monthly basis.