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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

Health service providers can help family caregivers more easily than they may think


May 5, 2017, by Paul Cavanagh, Caregiver Exchange

Some health care providers are reluctant to ask family caregivers how they are doing because they’re not sure how they can help if the caregiver isn’t doing well. That was one of the comments the Change Foundation heard when it travelled across Ontario, in partnership with the Ontario Caregiver Coalition, talking with both caregivers and providers.
Because of this, family caregivers are often left not knowing where to turn for help or support. According to an acute care nurse who participated in the province-wide consultations: “Almost every caregiver that I have run across looks like a deer in the headlights because they don’t know where to start, they don’t know what to ask, they don’t know the system.”
This was the conundrum presented to more than 120 health care providers attending a session entitled “Identifying and Supporting Family Caregivers” at the 31st Annual Geriatric Medicine Refresher Day in London, Ontario. I was joined at the podium by the Change Foundation’s Lori Hale and Sheila Schuehlein, a gerontologist and elder abuse consultant who’s been caring for her mother for several years. Together, we made the case for health care providers reaching out to family caregivers early on.
Schuehlein said that it helped her considerably when providers took the time to ask her how she was coping, even if they didn’t necessarily have a solution to her problems. It made her stop and consider her own needs as a caregiver when her attention had been focused on her mom for so long.
One valuable source of information for caregivers is this website. As Editor of, I described how to use postcards promoting the site to reach out to family caregivers. “Even if you don’t have time to talk, you can give them a postcard to show caregivers where to turn. Or you can use the postcard as an icebreaker to begin a conversation and give them permission to talk about themselves.”
Attendees snapped up 5,200 free postcards to distribute to family caregivers at their workplaces, which included hospitals, family health teams, home and community care settings, and long-term care homes.
Suggested methods for distributing the postcards:
  • Hand out during discharge planning
  • Include in current information packages
  • Hand out to families of patients who’ve experienced a significant change in health
  • Hand out during caregiver support sessions
  • Make a batch available in waiting areas
  • Hand out during interviews or case conferences when families are present
Free bundles of postcards can be ordered directly from by email.   
The Change Foundation is currently funding “Changing CARE” projects in different parts of Ontario to improve the way health and community care providers interact with caregivers. These projects are still in their design phase, but Hale expects to see improvements in caregiver identification and assessment emerging from them, among other things.
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