Employees who take care of an elderly family member are facing employers who are ill prepared for Canada’s aging population. Here, some ways caregivers can help themselves both at work and at home.

Working and providing care for an elderly person can be draining both physically and mentally. And while the challenges involved in this balancing act aren’t new, the large number of workers taking on this responsibility is.

Mark Maclean, the managing director of a private homecare company called Home Instead says employers aren’t prepared for Canada’s aging population.

“We’re faced with such numbers, that the institutions that would normally address this are swamped,” Maclean says. “So it becomes incumbent upon the caregivers to advocate for themselves.”

Without a framework however, discussing caregiver needs with an employer can be difficult.

Janice Bobbie, who’s taken care of her 97-year-old mother for the past 17 years, often took days off or worked from home so she could accompany her mother to medical appointments.

The unpredictable nature of caregiving however, didn’t always allow for Bobbie to give her employer notice.

“It was sporadic with me,” Bobbie says. “If she was really sick and I had to take more time off work, it got to be a little stressful to have to ask for more time. I don’t think a lot of workplaces consider elder care the same way as they do childcare.”

The challenges of course, don’t begin and end with work. Providing care for a loved one can weigh on even the most dedicated caregiver.

Bobbie, who moved into her mother’s house along with her husband, says she knows she needs a break when she becomes short tempered with her mother.

For those who are the sole provider of care for a loved one, Maclean suggests seeking out resources and help before it reaches that point. “When you [enter] the area of resentment toward a loved one you’re starting down the track of unintentional abuse,” Mclean says. “It happens out of exhaustion.”

Scroll through for seven tips to help you manage your caregiver role both at work and at home.

1. Initiate the conversation with your employer.


As mentioned before, it’s often up to the employee to initiate an honest conversation about their caregiving needs.

Before that happens however, Mclean suggests that employees explore the internal resources offered by their company. Many organizations have Employee Assistance Programs that offer counselling and even eldercare.

Once you’ve educated yourself on those resources, it’s important that you arm yourself with some possible solutions to your challenges.

For example, you can suggest working from home, working after hours or using vacation days to make up for absences. Establishing a mutual arrangement with a co-worker to cover one another’s shifts is a viable option as well.

Lastly, Mclean says you need to be patient in your negotiations with your employer.

“You’re going to be initiating a process not a decision,” Mclean says.

2. Know when it’s time to ask for help.


Mclean says that caregivers often wait too long and only seek help at their breaking point.

“For us one of the number one things is when it begins to impact your life in a negative way—when you are no longer able to manage what you were able to manage before easily—it’s probably time to look for external resources.”

3. Find respite care.

Sometimes, alleviating your stress as a caregiver is as simple as taking a break.

“It doesn’t have to be hugely expensive [or] huge amounts of time, but somebody to buffer you so you can get out and live your own life a little bit and not become completely defined by the caregiving.”

For those who are the sole provider of care, there are plenty of places that can help you find respite care. Some of the options include:

-Your local community care access centre
-Your Employee Assistance Program
-Your local senior centre
The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada
Daughters in the Workplace
-Private home care companies like Home Instead

4. Educate yourself.


Mclean says he often receives crisis calls from clients who are in need of homecare after a major change in their loved one’s health.

Bobbie says adapting to those changes requires education.

“Unless you have a lot of experience with it, there are some psychological and physiological changes that you may not be aware of that happen as people age,” Bobbie says. “It’s really important to understand how these things progress so you know what’s coming next and you have a better understanding of what your dealing with.”

Anticipating changes in your loved one’s care can allow you to locate resources while you’re still managing on your own.

5. Talk to someone.


Bobbie says the support offered by her husband was essential, not only for the caregiving itself, but for her own emotional wellbeing.

“When I reached my frustration level and I was getting angry and being short with her, my husband was there to talk me down,” Bobbie says. “I hope that anybody else out there has a shoulder to cry on to get through some of the difficult times.”

Other options include counselling, which may be offered through Employee Assistant Programs and support groups that can be found online.

6. Enjoy the positives.


Caregiving can be stressful, but it can also be quite rewarding.

For Bobbie, the most enjoyable part about living with her mother is the long talks they have after dinner.

“I’ve learned more about who my mother is [and] what kind of adversity she went through,” Bobbie says. “She grew up in the depression in Toronto and she had a really rough life. I would never have found that out had I not spent this quality time with her.”

7. When you should consider a long term care facility.


Bobbie and her family decided long ago that her mother would never live in a long term care facility.

That decision however, has been made easier by her mother’s continued health and mobility.

For those providing care to family members with dementia and/or mobility issues, insisting on home care can do more harm than good. Mclean says “it comes down to care and cost.”

“If you can no longer safely care for somebody and it’s becoming impossible to do so because of the cost, you need to be looking at long term care seriously.”