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Advice for Working Caregivers

A growing number of working-age Albertans are part of the “sandwich generation.” They find themselves caught between aging parents and dependent children. They often feel stretched to their physical, emotional, and financial limits.

Caregiving of any kind can be stressful. It’s even harder when you’re also trying to balance that care while working for a living. Caregiving in this situation can feel like a burden. Even worse, you may feel guilty for even feeling that way.

But there are ways to manage the stress of caregiving. You may never feel happy that a loved one’s health issues have forced you into this position. But you can find ways to take care of yourself. You can even feel good about what you’re doing for them.

Jay’s story

My mom and dad have always cherished their independence. When Dad’s health declined in his 80s, Mom became his primary caregiver at home. It was a lot of work, especially when Dad became bedridden. But Mom was committed and powered through for many years.

Then Mom ended up in hospital and, just like that, everything shifted. When she came home, she could still care for herself on her own, but she couldn’t take care of Dad anymore.

My siblings and I were busy raising our own families and still had jobs to go to every day. My brother suggested moving Dad to a care home. My sister and I preferred to respect our parents’ wish to remain in their home. The stress of the situation was overwhelming. We had no idea how, but we wanted to make it work.

Thankfully, I was able to combine some personal and vacation days. That gave me some time off work. We did tons of research. We talked to people. We learned about available supports. We shared caregiving tasks. Most of all, we realized this isn’t something you can do alone. It’s okay to ask for help.

Finding the right balance of give and take

Your work is important to you. It supports your everyday financial needs. As a friend or family caregiver outside of work, you support the everyday needs of others. And because you care, there’s no easy way to prioritize just one of your roles.

Somehow you have to balance your own needs with those of the people you are caring for. This can include both adults and children. Then, you have to balance all those needs with the demands of your paid work, career aspirations, and personal relationships.

First, plan to take care of yourself

Who is a caregiver?

“A caregiver is someone who assists a family member or friend with challenges resulting from chronic illness, disability, or aging.”

Caregivers Alberta

Being a caregiver is hard work. It can be physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially exhausting. It takes stamina and the stress of being a caregiver can contribute to:

  • Family conflict
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Sleeplessness
  • Fatigue
  • Health problems
  • Financial hardship

Keep in mind that your family, employer, and the people you’re taking care of are all counting on you. Their wellbeing depends on yours. Looking after yourself is the only way to make sure you can continue looking after them.

Remember, you’re only one person

Don’t try to be all things to all people. You’re just one person. If you’re trying your best to fulfill all your obligations, no one can expect more from you.

You’re not alone

People who become caregivers often start by responding to an emergency. They are not necessarily prepared to assume the role of caregiver. They may not know what they’re getting into—they may have no idea where to begin.

If this is you, you are not alone.

Roughly 1.3 million Albertans are unpaid caregivers. With our aging population, that number will continue to climb. But there’s good news, too. As demand increases, so too will the network of knowledgeable people you can turn to for support.

Chances are that people around you know what you’re going through. Seek them out. Talk to them. Valuable learning, advice, and support can come from unexpected sources.

Also, talk to your employer. There may be helpful options for you to take an employment leave.

Reach out for help

No one can provide around-the-clock care 7 days a week without help. We all need rest, relief and, at times, expert advice.

Collaboration is vital. Consider:

  • Reaching out to others to expand your network of support as early as possible.
  • Building relationships with medical experts, health advocates, and local pharmacists.
  • Bringing in family members or trusted friends who can share caregiving tasks.

If you have an assigned caseworker, direct your questions to that person. Learn as much as you can about any program you’re in so you can get the most benefit from it.

Work-related support

You’re likely not the first or only person in your organization to take on a caregiving role outside of work. Since COVID-19, flexible schedules and remote work have become more common. This means your employer may have processes they can adapt to help you. For example:

  • If you need time off work to provide care to a loved one, ask for it.
  • If you belong to a union, find out what support they can provide.
  • Ask your supervisor or someone in human resources for suggestions.

Do your research first. That way you’ll know what to ask for. And if you meet with any resistance, you’ll know your rights. Learn more about the options open to you and the changes to job-protected leaves for caregivers since the pandemic.

Time off with or without pay

You may have the option to use your vacation time for time off with pay. Depending on your job, you might be able to work flexible hours, or work remotely.

Alberta Employment Standards provide for unpaid job-protected leaves for employees who qualify. Look into a personal and family responsibility leave, critical illness leave, or compassionate care leave.

You may qualify to receive Employment Insurance (EI), which will allow you to receive some income while taking an unpaid leave. Always find out before you take leave, because eligibility for EI benefits and job-protected leaves can vary.

Community support

Many community-based groups serve people in caregiver roles. Try reaching out to those listed below that apply to you:

  • Alberta Health Services
    • 811 Health Link—Call Health Link about where to go for health care and help figuring out the health system.
    • Home Care Program—With provincial funding, this program provides help with a range of daily needs like personal hygiene or managing medications.
  • Alberta Supports—Contact them for information on many provincial programs.
  • Canadian Mental Health Association: Caregiver Connections—Call this branch to learn about family support from peers.
  • Caregivers Alberta—This group provides resources, mental health support, and education for people caring for family members or friends.
  • Caring for Caregivers—This groups helps people balance work and caregiving. Resources that include a short video, fact sheets, and tips for employees and employers.
  • Family Resource Networks—This network may help if you’re balancing caregiving tasks with raising children and youth up to 18 years old.
  • Inclusion Alberta—This not-for-profit offers resources for caregivers of people with disabilities.
  • PDD-Disability Services—These offices provide programs and services for people with developmental disabilities (PDD).
  • Search for additional caregiver supports near you using InformAlberta or 211 Alberta.

Financial support

Everyone’s caregiving needs and situation differs. So does the nature and level of financial support you might be able to access.

You’ll need to educate yourself on available financial assistance. Your medical professionals, caseworker, and accountant can be good sources for related advice.

Here are a few places you can look for financial support:

  • Alberta Supports
    • Ask about programs with self-managed or family-managed funding models. In these models, the caregiver hires staff directly with financial support from the province.
  • Government of Canada tax benefits:
    • Benefits Finder—This online form uses your input to suggest benefits from federal, provincial, or territorial governments that might apply to you.
    • Caregiving Benefits—These benefits can be an option if you are giving care to a critically ill or injured person or someone needing end-of-life care.
    • Child Disability Benefit—This tax-free monthly payment is for families with a child under 18 who has a severe, long-term physical or mental impairment.
    • Disability Tax Credit—This non-refundable tax credit helps people with impairments, or their families, reduce their annual income tax.
  • Municipal governments
    • Most towns and cities have programs to help local people pay for public transit and use of public recreation facilities.
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