Who are caregivers in Canada and why is caregiving an important topic in healthcare right now?
I’m Mark Yaffe. I’m a family physician at McGill University, a Professor in Family Medicine affiliated with St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal, which is my clinical teaching and research base. And in the area of research, I’ve been extensively involved for the last 30 years at looking at issues pertaining to family caregiving, and relationships between family caregivers, their recipients of care and with the family doctors themselves.
I think firstly, when we’re thinking about caregiving, it’s important to realize that caregiving is not a new phenomenon. In almost every society we’ve always had caregiving. What we have not done is given an identity and a validation to the people who do the caregiving. Why do we now, today, promote the concept of caregiving? Because it has become a far greater responsibility. We are living in a generation where, for the first time, almost every family is touched by somebody who potentially needs help. This is the only time in the history of humanity where so many different people of so many different generations need help in some way—and they’re not talking uniquely about seniors.
We have newborns who are being born at ages never before imaginable, who survive and survive nicely but with developmental diseases that need to be followed and cared for over many years, and that requires a lot of additional input from families, a lot of additional attention.
As we move through the lifespan we have adolescents who in years gone by might have been victims of multiple trauma—car accidents and so forth—and died. Today our emergency response teams are at a level that is unparalleled. And so, people who previously might not have survived now do survive, but are dependent in some way because of the sequelae of their trauma.
In middle age we have seen people develop chronic illnesses that, again, in previous generations one had the illnesses but unfortunately did not survive. And now, courtesy of medical advances—in technology, in pharmacotherapy, in the way people are managed in and out of hospital—people live much longer, but with their illnesses.
That would be true as well for those with cancer. Cancer, historically, has been viewed as a terminal or fatal disease. It’s no longer viewed that way; it’s a disease of chronicity. And anything that’s chronic is going to require some help.
Finally we get into the older adult or senior population and we have people living longer—again due to the successes that I’ve talked about in terms of healthcare—but they go into their older age with a number of diseases that can go on for many years that require help, support and attention.
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