More training for unpaid caregivers needed, says support group

More training for unpaid caregivers needed, says support group

Much of Mary Francis Chisholm's life revolves around caring for her 91-year-old mother. Her mother has severe arthritis and trouble getting around so Chisholm does her cooking, cleaning and the rest of the housework.

"I'm fortunate that I'm older ... I have life experiences. If I was a young woman, there is no way I could cope with this," she said. 

Chisholm, 66, is glad she's back in Inverness, N.S., to look after her mother but said the stress is difficult to deal with. 

She's not alone. Thousands of people across the province are struggling to cope with caring for family, friends and others who need help in their day-to-day lives.

They are increasingly turning to Caregivers Nova Scotia, a support group which currently has 4,500 members.

The organization is also experiencing a higher demand for the workshops it puts on for caregivers. In 2016, 573 people participated, double the people who attended in the previous year. 

The workshops teach people everything from how to deal with the stress of caregiving to how to properly give medications.

Those workshops were a godsend, Chisholm said.

She said they taught her how to better look after her mother and take care of herself. 

"I wish that it was offered in every workplace, and schools throughout our province because these are life skills," she said.              

'There's not a lot of training available'

The workshops are not enough though, says Angus Campbell, executive director of Caregivers Nova Scotia.

He wants an education program developed to teach people the basics of good caregiving. He said some first-time caregivers have never looked after a loved one before.  

The program could teach people a wide range of skills such as how to safely transfer a loved one from a wheelchair to a bed and show caregivers how to protect themselves from both physical and mental harm.       

"Unfortunately, there's not a lot of training available," said Campbell. 

He believes that's one of the reasons his association is seeing such an increase in attendance at its workshops — people are hungry to learn more.   

"There's a gap and we need to fill that gap. If we do, the government will save money in the long run because caregivers will be able stay in their roles longer which means people can stay in their homes longer," he said. 

Need for training will only grow

Campbell said with the province's large aging population the need for caregivers will only increase. He hopes to work with the province to develop that new education program. 

It's not clear when or if that program will get off the ground.

"We understand the important role unpaid caregivers have and the need for training," said a Health Department spokesperson in an email.

"We are developing our next five-year continuing care strategy with a client-centred focus. We will continue to work with Caregivers Nova Scotia on these issues."

In the meantime, Chisholm continues to look after her mother and looks for support.

"I wish there was a workshop once a week, let alone once a month. I think it's very, very important, I think for mental stimulation."

She said the knowledge can also be passed on to others.

"What I learn, I can take away and teach or show to someone else."