Care for the caregivers

Canada needs new policy tools to support an aging population

Date published: 2012-05-17 12:00:00 PM

According to Janice Keefe, SSHRC-funded Canada Research Chair in Aging and Caregiving Policy at Mount Saint Vincent University in Nova Scotia, Canada cannot afford to maintain how it currently cares for caregivers. Speaking at a recent Big Thinking lecture on Parliament Hill, Keefe offered several policy recommendations—from tax benefits to employment incentives—that would help support the approximately three million people who comprise the informal caregiver workforce in Canada.

“By 2031, the need for caregivers for the elderly is expected to double, with 1.3 million elderly requiring either formal or informal care,” said Keefe. “We need to consider the economic, social and healthcare costs of not supporting informal caregivers alongside the costs of prematurely entering the elderly into long-term care.”

Keefe explained that informal caregivers—usually female family members, friends or neighbours—currently cannot access the policy benefits available to registered caregivers, and thus often bear substantial out-of-pocket expenses, income losses, stress and isolation. Policies that provide financial compensation, together with public services like homecare service and education, would help address their needs.

“More public support for caregivers would not only demonstrate greater recognition of caregiving, it would also reduce the need for formal care, delay institutionalization and relieve the cost pressure on the long-term care and health-care systems,” Keefe writes in “Supporting Caregivers and Caregiving in an Aging Canada,” a recent report published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

Keefe stresses the need for policy tools that will serve current informal caregivers as well as the next generation of caregivers, who will face a greater social and financial burden in providing assistance to the aging baby boomers.

Significantly, it is members of the baby-boomer generation who will have a much smaller number of adult children to care for them in their later years and who form the bulk of today’s policy-makers.

"Since baby boomers are now entering a stage in their life cycle when they will need more care,” Keefe points out, “it is opportune to examine whether family caregivers will be available to them.” Although many may not currently have the care needs they can be expected to have in 10 to 15 years, we would do well to take a proactive approach to our caregiving policies now.