CCSMH Strategic Priorities: Informal Caregivers

Family or unpaid caregivers provide care for family members and friends and provide the majority of long term care in Canada . The economic value provided by family caregivers is enormous. It is estimated that informal caregivers save the public system over $5 billion per year and is equivalent to the work of over 276,000 full time employees.

The burden of caregiving historically falls upon women. Over 70{eca9be1aeb89acf3b4e51b6a105939851ada84bee547967ae76745d36fe23888} of informal caregivers are women, mostly wives and daughters and 30{eca9be1aeb89acf3b4e51b6a105939851ada84bee547967ae76745d36fe23888} of informal caregivers in the community are employed. According to a 1999 Health Canada study employees juggling work and family cost Canadian employers at least $2.7 billion a year in lost time and employees miss 19.8 million days of work each year due to work family problems. Furthermore many caregivers are seniors themselves who are coping with their own aging issues. In fact 36{eca9be1aeb89acf3b4e51b6a105939851ada84bee547967ae76745d36fe23888} of informal caregivers in the community are over the age of 70.

The caregiver role is highly demanding. Caregivers of older people have higher than average rates of depression. Studies show that caregivers experience a sense of burden and an estimated 46 percent are clinically depressed. Up to half of the primary caregivers caring for someone with Alzheimer’s develop significant psychological distress. Supports to family caregivers are limited, usually insufficient and mostly geared to the needs of the ill family member, not to the needs of the caregiver.

Representatives at the National Symposium on “Gaps in Mental Health Services for Seniors in Long-term Care” in April 2002 hosted by the Canadian Academy of Geriatric Psychiatry recognized that the issues for caregivers of seniors with mental health issues must be formally acknowledged, that informal caregivers must be included in the decision-making and planning processes and that informal caregivers have health and wellness needs that must be addressed.

In 2002, the Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health (CCSMH) developed a catalogue of resource materials (310KB PDF) for informal caregivers. These resources can enhance caregiver knowledge and capacity to support family members/friends who have mental health and behavioural issues. The catalogue also provides information on how caregivers can recognize and address their own needs.

It is the intent of the CCSMH to ensure that caregivers have a voice in the development and implementation of all strategies. The Resources & Publications section of this website provides excellent links to other resources for caregivers.

Additional Resources on Informal Caregivers