When her father received a diagnosis of early onset dementia, Sharon did not hesitate to step-in as one of his caregivers. Two years later, she continues to help with everyday tasks like medication reminders, doctor visits and transportation. Yet as a registered nurse, professor, and organizer of a community group called Smart Savvy Seniors, Sharon admits it has been challenging adjusting to the caregiver role and maintaining her own physical and mental health.
“There are days when I can manage and others when it is more difficult. I try to eat healthy and exercise, but it’s not always possible,” says Sharon.
Sharon’s personal experience reflects a broader narrative. According to a 2018 Statistics Canada[i] report, 1 in 4 Canadians over the age of 15 have provided care to a family member or friend with a long-term illness. More than half of the caregivers surveyed in a report by the Change Foundation[ii] said they found their role stressful, particularly when balancing caregiving duties with everyday responsibilities.
Baycrest@Home, a service for family caregivers, is helping to reverse this trend with a program that combines support, encouragement, and rewards to help caregivers maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle. With support from the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation’s (CABHI) Spark program, Baycrest@Home will offer reward points to caregivers through the wellness platform BestLifeRewarded (BLR), when they adopt healthy practices, like taking a walk, eating a balanced meal or meditating.
Caregivers will also be able to accumulate points by reviewing educational modules on the Baycrest@Home platform. The modules will cover a range of topics, such as how to care for someone living with dementia and how to combat the stigma associated with the condition. Points can be used towards shopping, entertainment, or food.
“Caregivers spend a lot of time taking care of others. This program will also help them take care of themselves,” says Adriana Shnall, Director of Programs, Baycrest@Home.
After hearing about the reward program through a community partnership with CABHI, Sharon is excited to begin using it. “It’s been a challenging time, but the extra support will make a difference.”
The Hidden Cost of Caregiving
Baycrest@Home’s new platform addresses an important, yet often overlooked phenomenon: caregiver burnout. According to the Change Foundation, family caregivers in Ontario provide approximately 10-30 hours of care per week, often while working full-time jobs and raising children.[i] Under these conditions, it is common for caregivers to experience higher levels of stress, depression, and health challenges. The opposite is true when adequate support systems are in place.[ii]
But for people like Ruby Isaac, who currently cares for her husband and elderly parents, avoiding burnout with self-care is easier said than done.
“I look after three people. I can’t take care of myself by doing something big, like going away for a weekend,” says Ruby. “But if Baycrest@Home could help me do little things to stay healthy that would be great!”
According to Shnall, Baycrest@Home was created to make health accessible to caregivers like Ruby and Sharon. “Caregivers will say ‘we’re being told to care for ourselves, but we don’t know what that means’. Our resources are designed to help them adopt healthy lifestyle changes that are realistic and specific to their needs.”
Baycrest@Home’s reward program is a step in the right direction for improving the lives of older adults living with dementia and their caregivers, especially during the current health crisis. As COVID-19 continues to amplify the challenges associated with dementia and aging, Baycrest@Home will make it easier for family caregivers to support their loved ones while maintaining their own health and reducing the risk of burnout.
With CABHI’s support, Baycrest@Home is proving that an investment in caregivers is an investment in a brighter future of aging for all. To learn more about Baycrest@Home visit www.baycrestathome.ca