Health Minister Adrian Dix speaks to reporters outside cabinet meeting, Aug. 30, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Action coming on senior care ‘crisis,’ Dix says

Home support hours decline, more burden on families

Unpaid family caregivers are taking more of the burden of seniors care as government home care and day program services decline, B.C. Seniors Advocate says.

Isobel Mackenzie released an update of her 2015 report on home care Wednesday, showing that family caregivers are facing more complex senior care needs such as dementia. With fewer provincially funded hours in home care and adult daycare programs, 29 per cent of unpaid caregivers are experiencing distress such as anger, depression or feelings of not being able to continue providing care.

“This is a disturbing trend on its own when we think of the daily reality for all the sons, daughters, spouses, neighbours and friends who are dedicating hundreds of hours caring for loved ones,” Mackenzie said. “There is even more cause for concern when we look at additional data in this report that indicate the frailty and complexity of those we are caring for at home is actually increasing.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Wednesday he considers the situation a “crisis,” and changes to the program have been in the works for some time. Additional funds to home support an daycare programs won’t be reflected in the NDP government’s budget update set for Sept. 11, but will be announced before the first full budget in February, he said.

“Home support, respite care, support in the community and community programs are in some ways the most efficient ways to provide support and quality of life,” Dix said. “That’s a point that [Mackenzie] has been making for some time.”

The report estimates that one million B.C. residents are involved in caring for a senior at home, which is nearly a quarter of the population of the province.

Half of patients cared for at home would fit the criteria for residential care. The report estimates that if all of the seniors cared for at home were in residential care, the cost to the B.C. government would be more than $3 billion a year.

Mackenzie says there is a “disconnect” between what policy makers say about the need to support seniors at home and the diminishing resources being provided as the population ages.

“The data indicate that we’re not putting our money where our mouth is,” Mackenzie said. “Right now the incentives we’re providing are pushing people into residential care.”

Home caregivers have to lift seniors, give them baths and do other functions performed by trained caregivers in residential care. Part of their distress is that they don’t know if they’re concerned they’re giving family members adequate care.

Mackenzie recommends expanding adult day programs beyond weekdays to evenings and weekends, to take some of the burden from family members. A further report is in the works on the need for more home visits, which she says are mostly limited to one hour a day and should be extended to up to four hours a day.

An hour a day is not adequate for a relative who is caring for a senior who can’t be left alone, Mackenzie said. They need to find another volunteer support person to support them, or pay out of pocket so they are able to do their banking, shopping and other daily chores.

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