Gerry and Barbara were married for 61 years.
“She was a very active, mobile person,” says Gerry, but when Barbara’s dementia became too much for him to bear alone, he needed to find a community.
Gerry yearned for a community that understood the new challenges he was facing, a community that empathized with the pain he felt as he experienced this new reality, and a community that could educate, empower and create a sense of security in a world he was unfamiliar with.
That’s when he found a local caregiver support group at Rural Ottawa South Support Services (ROSSS). This two-hour, monthly meeting —made possible by United Way donors—offers caregivers a safe place to share experiences and discuss common challenges. The program helps participants improve their skills in caring for others, and for themselves.
While Barbara has now been gone for a few years, coming to the support group has remained a cherished part of Gerry’s monthly routine, where he looks forward to helping others with the knowledge he’s gained.
“Even though she’s gone she’s still in my memory,” he says.
Caring for another person’s physical or mental health can be overwhelming, exhausting and often isolating.
According to United Way Ottawa’s 2017 report, A Profile of Vulnerable Seniors in the Ottawa Region, an estimated 3.3 million Ontario residents provided support to a family member, friend or neighbour in 2012. Almost one-third of caregivers reported providing care for people with problems associated with aging.
Seniors who provide care to other family members may be particularly vulnerable, as they often have health issues of their own to manage at the same time. If a senior is providing care for a love one with Dementia—as Gerry did—the problem intensifies.
Dementia is one of the diseases that is particularly challenging for caregivers.
According to the Alzheimer Society of Ontario, caregivers of family members with dementia provide 75 per cent more care than other caregivers and report nearly 20 per cent higher levels of stress. This has important implications for the future, as the number of people living with dementia in Canada is projected to almost double by 2031.
Vulnerable seniors in rural areas
At United Way Ottawa, we also know that the number of seniors is expected to grow substantially in rural areas of the city – and along with that, the challenges we face will also grow.
In 2011, seniors made up 12.3 per cent of the total population in rural areas of Ottawa, but it’s projected that this group will grow faster than the general senior population, with an estimated growth rate of 183 per cent between 2011 and 2031.
This knowledge is crucial, because knowing where vulnerable seniors and caregivers are or will be located plays an important role in investment decisions, and fulfils United Way’s promise of investing resources where they are needed most and will have the greatest impact.
“Having caregiver support programs in the rural community is very important,” says Leeanne Van der Burgt, Manager of Communication, Outreach, Volunteers and Caregivers at ROSSS.” This gives them a lovely break in their day. More than anything, it gives them a chance to speak with other people that really truly understand what they’re going through.”
As a community, we hold the solutions
To prepare for the role that vulnerability will play for a rapidly aging population, we will need all players—government, funders and service delivery partners—to act within a common framework to support community planning.
Together, we have the opportunity to build an integrated response, ensuring caregivers, particularly senior caregivers, are well supported in their important role. By ensuring caregiver support programs like ROSSS’s are accessible to those who depend on them, United Way donors support our city’s most vulnerable seniors.