Jamie Kinaschuk helps caregivers in various ways. (photo from Jamie Kinaschuk)
“When somebody faces a situation of becoming a caregiver, they can embrace it and see it as a sense of purpose for the person they’re caring for, or they can resent having to do it,” Jamie Kinaschuk, a social worker with A & O (Age and Opportunity) Inc. in Winnipeg, told the Independent.
“When you embrace it, you can feel that the tables have turned – from the time my parents looked after me to, now, me looking after them – and you can see this as something you want to do, are proud to do. That makes it easier.
“On the other hand, you can have a child or a spouse who’s just not ready and doesn’t want that responsibility. They may have been designated by other family members.”
In some situations, said Kinaschuk, the ultimate caregiver is the closest in physical proximity to the family member needing care and, as such, other family members expect them to carry the load of caring, not taking into account that the caregiver has their own life, family, job and/or other commitments.
Being a caregiver takes a toll in many ways, including that their life has to be put on hold to a certain extent.
“Somebody might become a caregiver with some resentment … or, maybe, the relationship between the caregiver and the recipient hasn’t been the greatest and it just happens that they live together,” said Kinaschuk. Regardless of the circumstances, “there is an impact on you physically, mentally, emotionally and financially.”
The care given varies by recipient. For some people, minimal help is needed – things like cooking, house cleaning or doing laundry and shopping. For others, assistance could be needed in bathing or grooming, getting dressed or using the toilet. Often, needs change over time and a caregiver is left to find ways to fill the new requirements of the person for whom they are caring. As a caregiver, one must learn to adapt.
“Maybe they have to locate a different doctor for a different health issue that has arisen,” said Kinaschuk. “Maybe they have to apply for home care, to locate medical supplies or transportation. Maybe it’s come to a point where they can no longer transport them, so they need something like Handy Transit.
“Sometimes what adds to the difficulty of being a caregiver is, if you’re a male caregiver, having to do the personal care if you’re caring for your mom. That could be a struggle – dressing, bathing and toileting.”
Ideally, caregivers will have their own support system, people who can provide some relief. Staying healthy is the most important thing a caregiver can do, not just for themselves but also to not become a further burden on the family.
Kinaschuk, who started his career with Winnipeg’s Jewish Child and Family Service in 2000, runs a caregivers support group.
“In my group,” he said, “we see a lot of caregivers struggling to access resources or, because they don’t have any other supports, they’re really struggling with the situation. There are times where, I’ll give you an example, a caregiver is struggling because their sibling doesn’t understand what they’re going through; they don’t know how difficult it is. That other sibling may say, ‘You can deal with it’ and ‘That’s not a problem.’”
Kinaschuk recommends having a heart-to-heart conversation with the other siblings or relatives to inform them about what’s going on. If a conversation is not an option, a letter can work wonders in getting the message across. “This way, they can read it and hopefully not rip it up, and then read it again,” said Kinaschuk. “And maybe they’ll realize that, ‘Yeah, my brother or sister is going through a lot. I better start supporting them.’”
One of the concerns is that a caregiver may take their frustrations out on the care recipient. Good communication with other family members and their support diminishes this risk, as does attending a caregiver support group. When possible, a talk about boundaries could be beneficial for all involved.
“Both the caregiver and the recipient need to realize that there are boundaries,” said Kinaschuk. “They both have boundaries.” Caregivers, he said, have to be honest with themselves and the recipient – be up front about the fact that they can only do so much.
“The recipient needs to realize that the caregiver needs time. They can’t be demanding 24/7 care,” he said. “They have to be respectful, to respect each other. If the recipient is too over-demanding, it drains the caregiver.”
If all involved can embrace the situation and find the positives, such as having an increased sense of purpose, then, being a caregiver can be an uplifting, life-changing experience.
“From the support group perspective, it’s all about empowering,” said Kinaschuk. “When people attend the support group, first of all, that’s where you see that you’re not alone – you see that other people are experiencing similar emotional, physical and mental situations.”
In his sessions, Kinaschuk asks that people not give advice, but rather share their experiences, in the hope that others can take what information they need to find a solution that fits them. At some meetings, he invites professionals – from the regional health authority and groups specializing in Alzheimer’s and palliative care, among others – to teach the group about different aspects of providing care.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.