Caring for Caregivers

Photo: By Ambro from
Photo: Ambro from

It is believed that there are at least 300,000 family caregivers who provide support and care for senior citizens suffering from a loss of autonomy or requiring specific and continuing care over an extended period of time in the province of Quebec. As the population of the province is aging, this number is expected to increase. The exact number of family caregivers is difficult to verify, as many do not seek external support.

Furthermore, this statistic from l’Appui pour les proches aidants does not include figures for caregivers of people in other situations, such as young people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. While there are many organisations throughout the province offering services for caregivers, in English as well as French, it seems that the information is not reaching everyone who would benefit from such support.

Earlier this year, Heritage Lower Saint-Lawrence invited community members to attend a free videoconference at the Métis-sur-Mer public library as part of the Community Health Education Program (CHEP). The interactive session titled “Who cares for the caregivers?” aimed to increase awareness about the experience of family caregivers and the fact that they make an important contributions both economically and socially, but often at the expense of their own health and well being. The session was well received and it was felt that the information merited being distributed more extensively.

Who are family caregivers?
Francine Ducharme, the Chair of Desjardins Research in Nursing Care for Seniors and Their Families and a member of the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal explains: “Being a caregiver simply means ensuring the well-being and quality of life of a loved one who needs support.” However, the term “family caregivers” (also “natural caregivers”) refers specifically to people who devote a large amount of their time, unpaid, to provide care to or support for a person close to them. Without this support, the care receiver would not be able to remain in their home.

Caregivers can be parents, siblings, children of all ages, grandchildren, grandparents, friends, or neighbours. They may be responsible for a multitude of tasks, depending on the needs of the care receiver. Usually tasks will include household chores, preparing meals, and providing emotional support. Frequently the caregivers will assist with finance management and in many cases they will also administer and coordinate health and hygiene care.

Why do we need to pay attention to caregivers?
Most family caregivers do not have formal training and the emotional burden of seeing a loved one lose their autonomy coupled with being responsible for their welfare can become overwhelming. Furthermore the time and energy devoted to caregiving will often affect the relationships, the work, the finances, the social life and the health of the caregiver. The obligations that caregivers take on can become a source of stress and lead to various psychological and physical problems. Caregivers often suffer from chronic headaches, sleep disorders, anxiety, irritability, exhaustion, or even depression.

“Caregivers who are unable to tend to their own wellbeing may impact their own health, limit the effectiveness of the help they can provide to relatives and increase costs to the health and social service systems,” says Ella Amir, Executive Director of caregiver-support organization AMI Quebec. “To reduce the risks and enhance the benefits caregiving can provide to the caregiver and care recipient, adequate supports are vital.”

Where can caregivers get support?
The importance of caregivers in our society is recognised by a number of community and non-profit organizations that offer support throughout the province. As many caregivers live in rural and isolated communities, a number of these services can be accessed by telephone or online.

The Caregiver Support Centre of CSSS Cavendish operates Care-ring Voice: a free, bilingual and confidential program that connects caregivers and families to information and support through the use of tele-learning. The program provides access to workshops by telephone on a range of topics as well as allowing caregivers to have the opportunity to learn from healthcare professionals (who lead the workshops) and share with others in similar situations.

Please see the Distance Support & Learning schedule below for information on upcoming CSSS Cavandish Caregiver Support Centre sessions. Previous sessions can be listened to online here.

For more information or to register for a session, call 1-866-396-2433 or consult the website at

The Info-Social service offered as part of Info-Santé offers free and confidential support for caregivers by telephone. This service is available 24/7 by dially 811-2. More details here.

There are also a number of websites dedicated to caregiver support, including government and public health agency documents available to download for free. Here are five online resources that provide practical tips about managing stress and finding support:

1. Public Health Agency of Canada: Self-Care for Caregivers

2. Megantic English-speaking Community Development Corporation: A Guide for Caregivers

3. Family Caregivers’ Network Society: Information Package for Family Caregivers

4. Taking Care of You

5. The Family Caregiver: Your Health

If you do not have Internet access in your home, public libraries can provide this service. In Métis-sur-Mer the public library has a computer that can be used for free by members and the library volunteers are happy to assist you as necessary.

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