Although most of us expect to provide at least some care for our aging parents, with the growing elderly population and the expense of long-term care, more spouses are finding themselves as a primary caregiver.
Aging is the single most common condition requiring caregiving and cancer was noted as the top reason spouses become caregivers according to Statistics Canada’s 2012 Portrait of Caregivers report. The report also revealed that the longest hours spent in caregiving was done by a spouse, followed by caring for a child and thirdly caring for parents.
It is estimated that approximately 30 per cent of caregivers actually die before their charge. Caring for a spouse when you are a senior yourself can be extremely stressful. A four year study from the University of Pittsburg found that caregivers have a 50 per cent greater chance of death than their non-caregiving counterparts.
Older caregivers may not be getting enough rest or exercise, may be too burdened to get proper health care for themselves and may suffer from depression due to isolation and the demands of caring for an ill spouse. Depression is associated with the development of heart disease and may worsen the outcome of patients with heart disease.
Helping to take care of the caregiver is an important role families can provide for their loved-ones. Respite care may be available through local agencies and although many seniors are reluctant to receive help, gently offering support and encouragement to carve out time for self care is important for extended family to offer.
The Canadian Caregiver Coalition can be found at www.ccc-ccan.ca and offers links to caregiver resources and support groups across Canada.