SUMMARY: At some point many of us will become a caregiver for a loved one. When we are also juggling multiple responsibilities related to families, work, and community, this may cause significant stress. Some of us were fortunate to have friends and colleagues who helped us out with tips and strategies that made it easier to advocate for the health and well-being of our loved one. In the spirit of paying that forward, we offer Being a Health Advocate to you.

Caring for a family member, partner or friend can be distressing when you are not able to personally provide all they need to be comfortable and are not sure where to turn to for help. While most of us do this because we care, even the most kind-hearted can be overcome with exhaustion and frustration related to lack of time or resources. These stressors can add up when we are also witness to the physical or mental suffering of our loved one.

Knowing where to turn for supports in areas such as government services, healthcare, housing, community living, nutrition, and finances may not reduce all the stressors, but it can help.

Government services

The following are some ideas you can use immediately to access information and resources related to your care recipient’s needs. By engaging those in government whose job it is to help citizens, you may find another advocate for your loved one.

  • The Federal Government of Canada and the provinces have created a Benefit Finder Tool that you can use to determine eligibility for health, housing or income programs and support. Governmental programs and processes can often take time before approval and funding, so apply as soon as you identify the need.
  • If you don’t find what you need using the Benefit Finder Tool, you can also reach out directly to your government representative’s office. Their staff are usually well aware of what is available.
    • Reach out to your local federal Member of Parliament (MP) office for information on national programs and services available to you.
    • Reach out to your local provincial or territorial representative’s office for information on provincial programs and services available to you, search online. Type the appropriate acronym MPP/MNA/MHA/MLA/AFN and the name of your town or city or use the links below:
    • First Nations/Métis – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is the national representative organization of the First Nations in Canada. The AFN Secretariat presents the views of the various First Nations through their leaders.
    • Reach out to your municipal office for information on programs and services available to you.
  • Government Assistance and Funding for Caregivers in Canada provides more information about different sources of financial benefits for the caregiver such as Compassionate Care Benefit.

Seniors

Programs related to affordable housing, home health care equipment and community supports are often dependent on local availability. What follows is intended to help point you in the right direction, regardless of where you live.

The idea of moving a loved one from what is familiar to them can be emotionally stressful. It is difficult to predict how they will respond or whether the new situation will improve their quality of life. Understanding your options can help. There are a variety of housing options for seniors and some have subsidies available if cost is a factor. Make sure you understand the significant differences between each option, including wait times, additional expenses, supports provided, and application process.

  • The Guide to Seniors Housing in Canada provides information and comparisons of housing options across Canada. It includes a table that shows average cost, common services provided, wait times, and how to be eligible for the various housing options including independent living, assisted living, memory care (Alzheimer’s/dementia), residential care homes and long-term care homes.
  • Sometimes applications for housing can be confusing, so read through their terms carefully. Apply early as there are often long waiting lists and check back to make sure your application is still being considered.
  • Every province and territory offer a variety of services for seniors. See the resources below or check with your provincial government about services they have available to support your loved one’s specific needs.

Health

Helping someone access effective healthcare can be a difficult task. Many resources are found through the various levels of government mentioned above. Below are some tips for dealing with the paperwork, medications, pain management, doctor appointments and medical advice.

  • If you or your loved one has benefits for health, wellness, disability, critical illness, pension or dental services through work or membership in an association, contact the provider to ask what is available to help you or your loved one.
  • Free telehealth services are provided across Canada. You can call and speak to a nurse about any health concern. Have your loved one’s government health card information handy.
  • Some health equipment such as walkers, wheelchairs, oxygen tanks and other medical or assistive devices are available at no cost or can be rented for as long as you need them. Red Cross has their Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP) and you can also check with your government healthcare agencies for other sources.
  • Look into online or local resources provided by institutions, associations and community initiatives in your area, especially organizations dedicated to your loved one’s health issue, such as diabetes, depression or heart disease.
  • Keep a binder or digital record of all healthcare information, including name, date of birth, medical history, health card information, emergency contacts including yourself, insurance policy numbers, power of attorney records, medication, doctor visits, rental equipment information and service providers.
  • Prepare in advance for all doctor visits to avoid forgetting the loved one’s health information, health card or answers to important questions. Some helpful fillable appointment preparation forms are available from HealthLinkBC to help with new or ongoing medical issues, follow up appointments, children’s issues and more.
  • Ask care providers if you can record your conversations during medical appointments with your loved one. Most smartphones allow for voice recording. If not, take notes at each visit to keep all the information straight and place this with your binder or digital health record.
  • It can be difficult to watch someone we care about live with pain. Check out the Retrain Pain Foundation for free online resources about dealing with persistent or chronic pain.
  • Any health condition can impact mental health. Some online resources that can help with both written material and live help include the Canadian Mental Health Association and e-MentalHealth.
  • Bring a list of all medications, vitamins and supplements taken by your loved one to their pharmacist to get a clear understanding of possible negative interactions or side effects.
  • You can also review the caregiver resources at Elizz.com for information related to medication safety, palliative care, special needs and much more.
  • Also check out Depression, Anxiety and Other Conditions if your loved one has a mental illness.
  • Many services, including dental, foot care, and even hairstyling, can be done in your loved one’s home. Some services, like hairstyling, require payment; others may be part of your provincial health services.

Nutrition

Many of us are guilty of not taking care of our own good nutrition, never mind someone else’s. This becomes even more challenging when that someone is an adult such as a parent, sibling or other loved one. The following resources can help you ensure they receive the nutrition they need, when and where they need it.

  • Contact the Dieticians of Canada to find a registered dietician in your area who can provide free advice. Check whether you or your loved one’s benefits program covers dietician services to get even more help. They can help when you are worried that your loved one cannot or will not get enough nutrients.
  • It can also be worthwhile to contact national disease or illness-specific organizations such as Diabetes Canada or Heart and Stroke, in order to get specific information and meal plans for those suffering from illnesses.
  • There are organizations across Canada that will deliver meals to those who are not able to cook or get out to grocery shop. Some examples are Canadian Red Cross and Meals on Wheels, care homes, or seniors’ organizations.
  • If your loved one is able and still enjoys cooking, consider services that deliver meal kits. These include most or all ingredients for a nutritious meal, while allowing a level of independence. Most of these companies operate with subscription plans, so watch for automatic renewals.
  • If the cost of food is a problem for your loved one, Food Banks Canada is a national charitable organization dedicated to helping Canadians living with food insecurity. Find a Food Bank is a site to help you connect with resources in your loved one’s community.
  • You can also check in with your municipal government about what is available in terms of food services or subsidies in your area.

Finances

  • Handling your loved one’s finances when they are unable to do so is a big responsibility. When the loved one is your parent, the role reversal may feel awkward. There are many legal and emotional issues that can come up. Discussing finances can feel particularly personal and intrusive. Be open to attending meetings with their existing trusted advisors (such as financial planners, bankers, brokers, accountants and lawyers) so you are all working together to support your loved one’s best interests.
  • Communication is key throughout the process as you work with and advocate for your loved one. While you may feel overwhelmed at times, keep in mind how difficult it can be if you were being forced to give up control of so many things you managed in the past.
  • Moneysense.ca provides tips for helping aging family members, including 10 key questions to ask an aging parent when preparing them for the road ahead:
    • Where do you keep your important papers – wills, investment account statements, life insurance policies and others? Have you prepared a list of all your important papers with relevant contact information?
    • Do you have a current will? Ideally, the will is less than five years old. The will, executors and beneficiaries should be reviewed after the death of a spouse or other major life change to ensure the remaining parent’s wishes are reflected.
    • Have you prepared power of attorney (POA) documents? A POA designates who will take care of your affairs if you are unable to do so because of illness or cognitive decline. Your parents can designate one person to handle health decisions and another for financial decisions or they can designate one person for both roles.
    • Do you have a safety deposit box? If so, at which bank, and where do you keep the key?
    • Where are your bank accounts? If you are incapacitated, where would I find the PIN and account information?
    • Do you have credit cards and if so, who are they with? Have you been paying the balance off every month?
    • Do you have a financial adviser, lawyer, or accountant, and what is their contact information?
    • Do you have life insurance policies? Who is the contact agent?
    • Do you have any debt? If so, with whom? How much do you owe?
    • Does anyone owe you money and if so, who?
  • Banks and other financial institutions often offer tools as well as financial counselling for caregivers. Check to see what is available from your bank but also look at what is available from other banks, as often these services and tools are available even if you are not a customer. As an example, there are tools such as:
  • In its report, Government Assistance and Funding for Caregivers in Canada, elizz.com recommends looking into financial counselling services. These services include not only retirement planning, but also solutions for credit, debt and money management.
  • Credit Counselling Canada is the national association of not-for-profit credit counselling agencies that work provincially, regionally, and locally throughout Canada.

Being a healthier advocate

All the above are practical approaches to help you manage the demands and stressors of being a health advocate. It is a cliché to remind you to take care of yourself, and some days it may seem like there is no time for such indulgence.

Yet, there are small things you can do every day:

  • Eating healthy food helps you avoid the energy spikes and crashes that can come from carbs, sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
  • Going to sleep earlier means if your sleep is regularly interrupted you may still get enough to keep functioning.
  • Being active may mean just pacing in your own home, but at least it helps keep your circulation going.
  • Managing any thoughts of fear or worry can help reduce your own stress. Try one of these easy-to-use apps at any time of day or night.
  • And finally, remember to stay connected with emotionally supportive family and friends. Just a call or text can help you gain perspective and feel less alone.

If you have practical tips for those who are supporting and advocating for a loved one, please share it with us through Contact Us.

*Thanks to Lindsay Crawford, SSW and David K. MacDonald, BA for their volunteer work in creating this resource.