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April 16, 2024

What If Family Caregivers Disappeared?

In Canada, our medical and social systems rely on family caregivers. According to the National Seniors Strategy, approximately 8 million Canadians provide an estimated $9 billion worth of care services every year to friends and family members. Without them, the people in their care would have to rely on our already overburdened healthcare system and social safety nets. Despite their substantial contribution, the role of family caregiving is not highly visible.

To demonstrate the importance of family caregivers, we have imagined a scenario where they suddenly disappear. What would happen? Here are a few challenges we would face if family caregivers were to vanish from our communities:

  1. First responders and emergency rooms would experience an increase in traffic. It’s no exaggeration to say that without family caregivers, there would be a surge in medical emergencies. Managing medications is one of the most vital services performed by family caregivers. If they suddenly disappear, their loved ones might struggle to get their prescriptions filled or take the correct dose at the right time. This could result in mishaps in medication management that would strain emergency health services.

  2. Schools would require more staff. Many family caregivers provide ongoing care for children with various needs, including support at school. The shortages of specialized support in our public education system mean families often play a hands-on role in integrating children with special needs into classes. If family caregivers were to disappear, teachers and school staff would be called on to administer medication, navigate environmental barriers, provide one-on-one support for tasks such as going to the washroom, and modify programming on the fly. This additional support would be unmanageable without more staff in schools.

  3. Utilities would get shut off. Caregivers often manage finances for their loved ones, such as paying bills or filing taxes. Should family caregivers no longer exist, they might find themselves with essential services cut off.

  4. Medical care would require public health project managers. Caregivers usually handle their loved ones’ medical care, such as arranging appointments and providing transportation. Without family caregivers, many medical appointments would be missed or delayed due to a lack of transportation. Some patients might arrive without adequate information to support their care or be unable to recall details of their treatment plan and follow through. As a result, the public system would require a new kind of worker to manage these patients, ensuring they could access and utilize medical services.

  5. Social isolation would skyrocket. One of the most critical roles of family caregivers is to ensure their loved ones enjoy the company of other people. Whether by taking a walk to a local park, registering them in programs at local community centres, or taking them to see a friend, caregivers provide a lifeline to those with mobility challenges. Loneliness is already a challenge in our communities. The disappearance of family caregivers would further isolate many Canadians.

  6. Waitlists at long-term care facilities would increase significantly. Many family caregivers support people who live in their own homes. They reduce pressure on waitlists for long-term care homes and assisted living services. The need for placements in these programs already far exceeds the country’s capacity. Should family caregivers disappear, the demand for spaces would skyrocket, making it even more difficult to secure a spot in a timely manner.

Without family caregivers, our communities would face many unforeseen problems, impacting both public and private systems, and all of us. Given their critical roles in Canadian communities, it might surprise you that Canada has no national caregiver strategy.

One of our goals at CareMakers is to raise awareness about the cause of supporting family caregivers. If you’re inspired to help family caregivers in Canada, you can write a letter to your MP or MPP, volunteer at a caregiving organization or event, or make a small donation to the cause. You can also reach out to the caregivers around you and let them know you are available to help!

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