It begins when a loved one is diagnosed with a debilitating disease and a parent, partner, child, sibling or devoted friend takes on the role of caregiver. Seemingly overnight their already overburdened workload can expand to include housekeeping, cooking, financial management, correspondence, driving, nursing, and – for those with loved ones suffering from dementia – gate-keeping.
The more fortunate caregivers will find a meaningful support service to help. More often than not, however, new caregivers are lost in a maze of agencies they are too shy or afraid to approach and stacks of literature they are too overwhelmed to read. Or the supports that are found fall away.
With baby-boomers now well into their senior years, the need for caregivers is expanding annually. According to a recent article in The Globe and Mail, informal caregivers are contributing more than $26 billion of unpaid labour annually to the health care system. While this is beneficial to provincial and federal health care budgets, studies also show that caregivers are more susceptible to diseases such as heart failure and dementia that result from prolonged stress, and they have higher mortality rate than non-caregivers.
On the Sunshine Coast, caregivers established the Memory Café, a weekly two-hour program managed and financed by the caregivers, that mimics Minds in Motion but includes participants in every stage of dementia. Memory Café caregivers also organized two workshops to determine caregiver needs, and assembled a resource package for distribution to new caregivers. The group’s main goal, however, was to put in place a one-stop-shop of resources that would be available to caregivers from the beginning to the end of their caregiving journey.
Their dream became a possibility in 2018 when a caregiver made an anonymous donation of $100,000 to the Sunshine Coast Resource Centre, to be used for caregiver resources. It resulted in the formation of the Sunshine Coast Caregiver Support Network.
The network is taking inspiration from the Cowichan Family Caregivers Support Society, which has been looking after caregivers on Vancouver Island for more than 20 years and is centred on the needs of the caregiving family. By partnering with other community organizations and businesses, the Cowichan Society has been able to function with a shared office, holding meetings in existing boardrooms that would otherwise be idle and having employees work from home and meet with caregivers there or at mutually agreed-upon locations. Accountability is maintained through bi-monthly staff meetings, documentation of activities and maintaining accurate and up-to-date financial records and reporting.
The Sunshine Coast Caregiver Resource Network will operate as a program of the Sunshine Coast Resource Centre Society, which since 1992 has been collecting and sharing information on resources available on the Sunshine Coast. Resource Centre co-chair Anne Titcomb and director Shari Myhill-Jones are both members of a steering committee that has been formed to get the Caregiver Support Network up and running.
“We will start with one-on-one conversations with caregivers,” said Myhill-Jones, “and expand our services when it is possible to do so.”
The Caregiver Support Network offers help to caregivers through emotional support and finding additional community resources. The goal is to improve the quality of life of caregivers by acknowledging, appreciating and supporting people in their caregiving role to alleviate their stress, and to raise awareness of caregiving through education and advocacy. Staff have a background in social support and crisis intervention.
Caregivers are invited to call the program’s coordinator, Michelle Bruecker, at 604-212-1441 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to speak confidentially about their concerns and to ask questions.