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The silent costs of caregiving

On November 10, a Concordia conference tackles the challenges facing older adults — and those who support them
November 9, 2016
By Renée Dunk

What is the job of a caregiver? It’s a question that an upcoming conference at Concordia aims to answer while raising awareness about this often invisible work and other “silent” homecare issues.

“It’s difficult to measure the contributions of caregivers,” says Patrik Marier, a political science professor in the Faculty of Arts and Science who holds the Concordia University Research Chair in Aging and Public Policy and is a member of the PERFORM Centre.

“Many people who provide homecare to older adults experiencing loss of autonomy underestimate not just how much they do but also how long it takes them to do it. There’s a real gap in perception.”

On November 10, practitioners, managers, community organizations and researchers working with aging populations will participate in the day-long event called “Current and Future Challenges in Caregiving.”

There they will examine issues surrounding homecare and implications for health and social service organizations and the community sector. Throughout the day, they’ll identify and explore best practices, models, and intervention tools.

It’s not a coincidence that the event is taking place during National Family Caregivers Month. Marier points out that public social services only satisfy eight percent of Canada’s current needs.

“Caregivers reside in a grey zone of the Canada Health Act,” he notes. “Because our system was built using a hospital-based, curative — versus preventative — model, social services in the home were neglected.”

In addition to his work at Concordia, Marier is scientific director of the Centre de recherche et d'expertise en gérontologie sociale (CREGÉS), a unique centre in Montreal devoted to the development of research and innovative practices in the field of social gerontology.

He argues that Canada’s national long-term care system is flawed in the sense that it does not give equal weighting to physical, cognitive and social impairments, nor does it offer adequate protection for the caregivers themselves.

“The questionnaire used to assess homecare service needs does not provide a strong voice to social issues” he says. “Furthermore, there are serious consequences on the lives of those providing care that are not taken into account, such as loss of employment and subsequent reliance on the public pension plan versus personal retirement savings.”

Systemic historical flaws aside, Marier says that the caregiver landscape is evolving, and points to several key changes in the past 10 years.

“Bereavement and end-of-life support for those providing services are becoming more common. We’re also seeing more male caregivers — although it remains a heavily feminized field.”

The long-term objective for Marier and his CREGÉS colleagues in sociology, gerontology and social work is the development of a longitudinal survey of caregivers. This will assess the accessibility of care in community organizations as well as in homes in Montreal, and also raise awareness about what it means to support the city’s aging population.

Marier uses the analogy of a roof to further explain the current social services and preventive health care situation. “Some people won’t do any repairs until there’s a hole in the roof,” he says, pointing out that caregiving is largely overlooked in policy debates.

More importantly, the gender dimension — a key feature of caregiving literature — is virtually ignored.

Ultimately, caregiving can be addressed as a human rights issue, as evidenced by the special panel at the Conference on the November 10.

“Studies demonstrate that investments in social policies and services are as effective, if not more, than investments in health, but this requires action.”

Due to a high number of registrants, participation in the
Current and Future Challenges in Caregiving event has been capped.

Learn more about the Concordia University Research Chair in Aging and Public Policy.


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