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The proportion of women who cared for an adult family member or friend on any given day was three times that of men in 2015, according to Statscan.Alessandro Di Noia/stock

Imagine your elderly, ailing parent is living independently and coping, just.

You drop by as often as you can (assuming you live in the same city) and wish you could do more, but work and daily commitments are pressing. You buy enough groceries for the week, making sure everything is fine, providing all the care and love that you can, but it is a fraught situation. She depends on your every visit.

Then one day she has a nasty fall and can no longer do the most basic tasks. The entire caregiving apparatus crashes. How can you prepare for this? And as much as you don’t want to think of yourself, how can you also prepare your career for this?

The reality is that our population is aging, and about 50 per cent of Canadians have cared for an aging, sick or disabled family member or friend at some point, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. Women face a larger caregiving burden: The proportion of women who cared for an adult family member or friend on any given day was three times that of men in 2015, according to Statscan. And 43 per cent missed work, 15 per cent cut down their hours and 10 per cent passed up a promotion or new job because of their caregiving duties, according to Statscan.

The good news is that public seniors services are often available to help to some extent with this kind of crisis. Yet, this assistance will still rely heavily on you as caregiver. Understanding that is key in coping career-wise, say health-service providers.

So preparing yourself, and, as much as you can, your employer, about potential scenarios, can help you navigate unexpected crises.

“We rely on informal caregivers to be part of the picture, to go and get the medication, to take Mom to the medical appointment, to co-ordinate visit times for different things. We recognize that that’s a real need [for caregivers]‚” said Mark Blandford, executive director for primary care and seniors’ health for Island Health, the public health-care provider for B.C.’s Vancouver Island.

Caregivers should be aware that even navigating available services for elder care can require a major time commitment, given the different options usually available, from signing up for home nursing or having a case worker quickly find room in a suitable care home for your parent (if need be), to recommending temporary respite care and day programs that give time for caregivers to look after themselves. It can be difficult to judge which service to take and how much time you will need away from work.

“We focus on the patient extensively, but we don’t really focus as much as we could on the caregiver experience," said Island Health’s Mr. Blandford. About 93 per cent of the authority’s clients using homecare services have an informal caregiver of one kind or another.

Senior services are also normally geared toward getting a patient back to their place of residency, rather than remaining for days in a hospital. “We’ll move heaven and earth to stop them being admitted to a bed, unless they medically need it,” said Mr. Blandford. This puts further onus on caregivers, possibly requiring more workarounds for your job commitments.

So, keeping your employer closely abreast of your situation is crucial, human resources consultants say.

There are legislated compassionate care provisions for workers, though it is reserved for people caring for people who are seriously ill or dying.

Provinces allow 27 or 28 weeks of compassionate leave for caregivers tending to gravely ill or dying relatives, or to people they consider family.

Federally, some employment insurance benefits are available as a non-refundable tax credit to family caregivers.

Some companies may also have additional policies allowing compassionate leaves.

“While most organizations will defer to the provincial ESA [Employee Standards Act] regulations, different employers will provide access to different types of internal leaves and/or may be flexible in how an employee is using their sick days, personal days and vacation days to cover off intermittent absences from work,” said Sharon Kolodychuk, a consultant in the Calgary office of human resources consulting firm Salopek and Associates.

“Honesty from the employee in keeping their employer apprised of their personal situation, and flexibility from the employer to work with the employee during this period of time, will be critical,” she stressed. After all, the employer still has a business to run.

Yet, communication can also be a difficult conversation, said Lynn Brown, managing director of Brown Consulting Group in Toronto. “I think you have to be mindful of who your employer is.”

An employee doing shift work may find a manager less than accommodating if an employee is juggling various caregiver commitments. Still, employees can take heart in the fact that compassionate care regulations mean that even reticent employers “have somewhat of an obligation to try and be helpful in these situations because people are balancing a lot of things – children and elderly parents – and it doesn’t help if you have a really stressed out employee,” Ms. Brown said.

So, “it’s important for employees, if they are going to talk to their employer, to look at policies,” to see the options available to them, she said.

And it can help with juggling work to realize that you have options beyond what seems to be only one solution. For example, you might believe that your mother, after her fall, needs homecare nursing on the days when you have to be at work. But there may be other options, such as different combinations of day services and respite programs.

It is import to assess all your options, health workers say.

“[We want patients and caregivers] to be open and take the time to have a thoughtful conversation with our care co-ordinators about where they’re at, and what services are available, and to just stay open minded about the different kinds of services that we link people with,” said Megan Primeau, a spokesperson for Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network. (LHIN)

May-Lin Poon, client service manager with the Toronto Central LHIN, stresses it is also important to understand your own caregiver abilities. “When we get those calls [for help], we want to start off by understanding where those supports are, and we want to work collaboratively with those supports,” she said.

No two caregiving situations are alike. Everyone is unique. And most patients and caregivers will only contact senior services when the need is urgent. Yet, for the sake of your career and your own health, it is important to look at a variety of solutions.

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