Emily Beckett and Nathan Battams
Caregiving is a near-universal experience: at some point in our lives (or, more likely, at multiple points across our lives), most of us provide care to a family member or friend living with an illness, injury or age-related need. Care is at the heart of family life – indeed, providing for the physical maintenance and care of group members is the first component in the Vanier Institute’s definition of family – and family caregiving will become increasingly common and important in the decades to come as Canada’s population continues to age.1
In winter 2020, Statistics Canada will release the first set of data from the 2017 General Social Survey (GSS) on Caregiving and Care Receiving, which will provide the first national portrait of caregiving across Canada since 2012. To explore caregiving through a family lens, our first Resource Roundup provides a gallery of resources in diverse formats to share insights and knowledge and to generate discussion on family caregiving in Canada.
The Caregivers’ Club (documentary)
The Caregivers’ Club, a documentary available at CBC Docs POV, follows the experiences of three patients with dementia and the family members who subsequently became their caregivers. Drawing inspiration from her own experiences of family caregiving and those of her mother, director Cynthia Banks provides an intimate portrait of the realities of three caregivers of family members living with dementia.
Banks highlights their diverse caregiving experiences, which includes many difficulties, frustrations and unexpected transitions, but also a great deal of joy, humour and love. In shining the spotlight on the spectrum of experiences families can have when caring for someone living with dementia, The Caregivers’ Club provides the “stories behind the statistics” on family caregiving while raising awareness and understanding of the disease and its many impacts – important contributions in the context of Canada’s aging population.
Life Course Trajectories of Family Care examines the lifetime experiences of caregiving and their impact on family caregivers. While most research on caregiving in Canada to date relies on “snapshots” of caregiving – that is, data is collected on caregiving at one particular point in time – these measures don’t provide a complete picture, as caregiving can involve multiple (or even overlapping) periods of providing care that can vary in duration, intensity and frequency.
In this study, researchers identify and explore three distinct lifetime patterns, or “trajectories” of care experienced by family caregivers, each with their own impact on caregiver well-being:
- The Generational Care Trajectory involves care within high-obligation close-kin relationships (e.g. to parents or between spouses) that commonly occurs within families, a “normative experience” in which care is assumed to be available when needed and is associated with strong social expectations and obligations.
- The Career Care Trajectory is a single episode of long duration within a high-obligation close-kin relationship, such as between a parent and a child with a lifelong or acquired disability.
- The Serial Care Trajectory involves multiple episodes of care to diverse care recipients with no predictable pattern, occurring in relationships that are more discretionary and based on loose ties. Each trajectory is unique, with its own impact on caregiver well-being.
In moving beyond snapshots to a life-course perspective and highlighting the cumulative impacts of caregiving, this research can support efforts to identify carers at greatest risk of adverse health impacts, social isolation and poverty in later life to facilitate policy interventions. In doing so, this study enriches the conversation on family caregiving and the sustainability of the family care sector.
The Unexpected Journey of Caring: The Transformation from Loved One to Caregiver, by Donna Thomson, caregiver and author of My Four Walls of Freedom, and Zachary White, associate professor at Queens University in Charlotte, N.C., is a practical and personal guide for people who are becoming caregivers that is informed by a family lens.
The authors weave together lived experience with tangible advice, providing readers with an honest perspective on the diverse realities of caregiving, as well as practical steps and resources to create and nurture connections within local and online communities, navigate support systems and work with medical professionals.
Thomson and White explore the transformative journeys that caregiving can entail, as new carers often find themselves feeling like “driver[s] in a foreign land” of new responsibilities that impact not only their daily life but also their expectations, aspirations and perspectives. In focusing on the personal, identity-shaping impact of caregiving, The Unexpected Journey of Caring provides unique insights into providing care and what it can mean for families.
Caregiving in Military and Veteran Families (research recap)
In Caregiving in Military and Veteran Families, Alla Skomorovsky, Jennifer Lee and Lisa Williams provide an overview of a study on the experiences of families of ill and/or injured Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members or Veterans who have been medically released.
The research found that CAF members/Veterans’ health directly impacts the well-being of other family members, particularly when they step in to provide care to the ill and/or injured CAF member or Veteran. While many spousal caregivers reported negative impacts due to increased responsibilities and lack of time for self-care, most reports of the decline in physical, psychological and social well-being were attributed to consequences of the illness and/or injury. Despite the hardships experienced during the transition and the negative impact of caregiving on health and work, many also reported growth in their relationship and feeling closer to the CAF member/Veteran.
Through its exploration of the challenges experienced by families of ill and injured CAF members/Veterans, this study provides new insight and directions for enhancing the transition experience of military families and maintaining their overall well-being. With the trend for medical releases on the rise since 2013,2 this is an issue of growing importance for Veterans, their families and Canadian society as a whole.
Together, these resources provide unique insights into the caregiving that is always taking place within and between families across Canada. As the number and proportion of seniors and people living with disabilities grows, diverse resources such as those above will play an increasingly important role in strengthening the national understanding of family caregiving in Canada.
- Learn more about the impact of population aging in A Snapshot of Population Aging and Intergenerational Relationships in Canada. Link: https://bit.ly/3w4j1W8.
- Linda Van Til et al., Well-Being of Canadian Regular Force Veterans, Findings from LASS 2016 Survey, Veterans Affairs Canada – Research Directorate Technical Report (June 23, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2hWHt7y.