Alex Foster-Petrocco shares takeaways and highlights from a recent webinar on caregiving and technology during COVID-19.
May 20, 2021
On Tuesday, April 6, 2021, the Vanier Institute of the Family co-hosted a webinar in partnership with AGE-WELL and the University of Alberta to mark National Caregiver Day. The webinar was a key element in the national campaign that profiled experiences in caregiving; what caregivers think, feel and do; and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.1
Moderated by Vanier Institute CEO Nora Spinks, the webinar featured Ron Beleno, caregiver advocate and chair of AGE-WELL’s Older Adult and Caregiver Advisory Committee; Janet Fast, PhD, a professor from the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta and an AGE-WELL researcher; and Catherine Suridjan, Director of Policy and Knowledge Translation for the Canadian Home Care Association and Carers Canada. The panellists offered their thoughts and observations on experiences in caregiving during the pandemic. The content of the webinar was reinforced through a user-friendly infographic profiling caregivers’ experiences with COVID-19 and technology.
The importance of caregiving experiences during the pandemic
A key theme that each panellist saw in caregiving during the pandemic was that it touches everyone. Janet Fast acknowledged the wide reach of the caregiving experience, saying, “If you haven’t already been a caregiver, if you’re not now a caregiver, you will be a caregiver in the future, or you will need a caregiver in the future.” By her estimate, the cost of replacing care provided by family and friends with paid labour would total $66.5 billion annually.
According to a Carers Canada survey presented by Suridjan, many who provide care for their family and friends do not self-identify as caregiver, but instead think of their relationship with the care recipient, identifying as a friend, neighbour or loved one. For this reason, many do not seek help with caregiving tasks or reach out to respite services. Beleno, who cared for his father for 10 years and now cares for his mother, agreed that he did not identify as a caregiver either. He saw his caregiving as part of his responsibility as a son. Part of Carers Canada’s National Caregiver Day campaign is to bring more awareness to caregiving in the hopes that some of those who do not identify themselves as caregivers feel comfortable seeking the support they need in that role.
Caregiving needs have grown since the beginning of the pandemic
Both Suridjan and Fast have found in their research that the pandemic has increased the care time and responsibilities of caregivers in Canada. Carers Canada shared the results of the Global Carer Well-Being Index,2 a survey of the impact of COVID-19 on carers in 12 countries. The survey found that 12% of Canadian caregivers began their caring duties for the first time during the pandemic, and the demand on caregivers’ time has increased 28% on average since the start of the pandemic. Fast’s research has found that while there has been an increase in community care, caregivers have spent less time caring for those in long-term care homes due to visitation restrictions.
In either case, there is greater strain on the caregiver and increased feelings of social isolation. According to the Global Carer Well-Being Index survey, 71% say that they feel more burned out than ever before, and there is a higher incidence of Canadian caregivers feeling that their physical, emotional and mental well-being have worsened since the pandemic. Commonly cited symptoms of the increase in care time and stress included isolation, lack of support, lack of sleep, having to reduce working hours due to caregiving duties and adopting unhealthy eating habits.
Technology plays an important role in pandemic caregiving
Technology has never been more important to caregiving than it has since the beginning of the pandemic. Physical distancing and stay-at-home orders have made it difficult for some to continue offering care to those in their lives who need it. In the Global Carer Well-Being Index survey, 52% of caregivers are using more digital tools to manage care. Still, technology remains a barrier for some. In that same survey, 55% said they want additional guidance and training on how to use different technologies for caregiving.
Fast’s research has found that while age may not be as important a factor in determining technological literacy as it is commonly believed, education, employment status, affordability and access to infrastructure are key factors. Additionally, design can be a hurdle to the adoption of caregiving technology. According to Fast, most technologies are not designed for use by the caregiver but by the care receiver. Part of AGE-WELL’s initiative is to push for designs that will work the best for those who will use them: the caregivers.
Outside of managing care, technology can provide some measure of comfort and stress relief to the caregiver. The Global Carer Well-Being Index Survey found that many respondents used technology to seek support groups and reduce their feelings of anxiety and isolation. With many new caregivers learning how to manage their new responsibilities, technology has allowed them to connect not only with resources that can help them provide care but also with other caregivers who can share their experiences. Suridjan related the story of a caregiver caring for her husband who found an online support group for wives whose husbands had the same condition and used it as “her outlet for sharing my early experiences with caregiving to people who understood.”
Looking forward: Wouldn’t it be great if…?
To cap off the webinar, and with the future of caregiving in Canada in mind, each panellist was asked to complete the phrase “Wouldn’t it be great if…” Beleno’s aspirational goal is that we are able to find silver linings in pandemic, such as the increase in caregiving that has happened within communities, and expressed hope that this renewed sense of community would continue. Suridjan’s aspirational goal is that caregivers be encouraged to take pride in their caregiving and to join the larger community of caregivers and access resources that may help them provide better care and improve their own quality of life. Fast envisioned increased support for caregivers from employers and governments and building a broader program of public health that includes caregiving. In closing, Spinks stated it would be great if this conversation about caregiving in Canada could continue beyond the webinar and spread to the communities of all the participants and viewers, and lead to a year of learning from the experience of the pandemic and a 2022 conference in which we could reflect on how much had changed between then and now.
Alex Foster-Petrocco is a professional writer with a BA in History from Carleton University.
- To learn about caregivers’ experiences, visit the national campaign site. Link: https://bit.ly/3fM211t.
- Embracing Carers, Canada Carer Well-Being Index. Link: https://bit.ly/3blAvov.