Family caregivers for the elderly: The importance of providing services now and for generations to come!

The reality of older people with loss of autonomy illustrates the effects of the global movement towards deinstitutionalization. Several reasons are behind the movement to “keep” the elderly in their own living environment, such as costs associated with population ageing and the resulting burden on health system resources, as well as the desire of the individuals themselves to spend their remaining years at home. Implicitly, this notion stems from the belief that family is a source of support that will allow one to “age well” at home. As a result, the turn of the century has seen a significant increase in family contribution: a greater number of adult children are providing more complex care for longer periods of time than ever before. Therefore, it is clear that nonprofessional family caregivers who provide their ageing parents with assistance and care are an essential part of society.

However, few families are prepared to provide long-term care for an ageing parent with loss of autonomy. Although care giving can be validating and rewarding, this role can be quite challenging. Family caregivers must balance the care they provide with professional, social and family life. Many of them experience stress and burden, psychological distress, depression and psychotropic drug consumption. It is in this regard that the urgent need to consider family caregivers’ mental health as an important public health issue is becoming increasingly recognized throughout the world.

Despite this, support services for caregivers are still lacking, are poorly adapted to changing needs during the long care trajectory and, according to studies, have modest effects on mental health. Furthermore, caregivers are often reluctant to use the few existing services, including respite services, support groups and psychological counseling. It is evident that complimentary resources are necessary to support individuals who provide, too often in the shadows, an invaluable contribution to the quality of life of our society’s elderly. An approach including home support for seniors should inevitably be accompanied by support measures tailored to caregivers’ needs if we want that approach to “hold up” for future cohorts. Otherwise, what will happen when baby boomers turn 65? Who are the caregivers of tomorrow and how will we support them?


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