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5 Considerations When Becoming a Family Caregiver

Posted by Steve Jones

Thu, Nov 27, 2014

Becoming a family caregiver is a major decision. It requires lifestyle and financial adjustments that are difficult to consider in advance. Yet when it comes down to it, the health and safety of our family members takes precedence over almost any other consideration.

Sometimes a loved one’s health condition develops over a long period of time, as with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia; sometimes circumstances change in the blink of an eye, as with an auto accident or a diagnosis of cancer. Either way, your family member needs help and you step up and do whatever you can.

When you’re deciding whether to become a caregiver, take these questions into consideration:

  1. What kind of care does your loved one need and are you capable of taking care of them by yourself? There is a big difference between buying groceries once a week and driving them to the occasional doctor’s appointment, and caring for a loved one’s complex medical needs 24/7 in your or their home. Their needs will change over time, as well, and what you are able to do today may not be enough tomorrow.
  2. What resources do you need? Do they need nursing care or help with daily activities of living, such as bathing and dressing? If your loved one is of the opposite sex, can you handle the emotional difficulty of dressing and bathing them? You are entitled to get help with such tasks from your CCAC. They will likely not be able to cover all of your loved one’s needs, but any help will lighten your load. Private services such as Qualicare can do much more than CCAC to ensure continuity of care, coordinate medical providers and act as a health care advocate.
  3. How will you make time for yourself and your family? If you are taking care of your parent, your spouse and children still need your love and care. It’s a juggling act which caregivers everywhere engage in everyday.
  4. How will caregiving affect your physical as well as mental health? Consider your physical state as well as your mental one. Most of us can imagine how hard it is on our mental health to care for someone: depression, anxiety, guilt, and even anger are emotions we know will come up; but what about physical health? Can you move a 180-pound man out of bed and into the bathtub? Do you have the stamina to be the primary caregiver?
  5. Will you be able to keep your job? If the circumstances are temporary, such as care after an auto accident or discharge from the hospital, you have a right to a leave of absence under the Ontario Employment Standards Act. There are several types of leave available to you, depending on your circumstances.
    • Family caregiver leave is “unpaid, job-protected leave of up to 8 weeks per calendar year” to care for a relative for whom a “qualified health practitioner” has issued a certificate stating that the family member has a “serious medical condition,” according to the Ministry of Labour. All employees, regardless of their employment status or length of time employed, are eligible.
    • Family medical leave is similar to family caregiver leave, except that employees are eligible for up to 8 weeks’ leave in a 26-week period, and the family member must have “significant risk of death occurring within a period of 26 weeks.”
    • Other types of leave include: personal emergency leave, critically ill child care leave, and crime-related child death or disappearance leave. You may be eligible for more than one leave for the same event. If you take family caregiver leave to care for a loved one whose condition then deteriorates and is expected to die, you may be eligible for family medical leave even after you have exhausted family caregiver leave.
    • The above types of leave are unpaid, that is, your employer is not required to pay you while you are on leave. For some types of leave you may be eligible for compassionate care benefits under the federal Employment Insurance Act. With family medical leave, you may be paid up to 6 weeks of benefits; for a critically-ill child, your benefits may be paid up to 35 weeks. For more information on employment insurance visit Service Canada.

There is a lot to think about when deciding whether to become a caregiver. Sometimes you have the "luxury" of time to figure it out, sometimes it's thrust on you suddenly. We at Qualicare hear every day from people who are struggling with caregiving. You don't have to do it alone. Check out our post on finding local support. Or just call us to explore how we can help.