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I often get frantic calls from people at the beginning of a care journey with a loved one whose health is in decline. I know how the start of this journey feels, and it is not great. Acknowledging that your loved one needs help is the first step on a long road to creating a care plan that works. Here are some things you should know, and steps that you can take to help create a good plan for your loved one.

Canada has government-funded programs specifically to help provide care for the elderly or disabled. Programs are federally funded, but funds are block-transferred to the provinces and territories, where each program is governed by local health authorities. The key word here is "help." These programs are meant to supplement care that the person can provide for themselves, with help from family, friends and community.

Step 1: Accessing publicly funded services

Find out what government resources are available to you or your loved one. Call your local government organization that administers long-term care and home-care services and explain your circumstances. In Ontario this organization is called CCAC (Community Care Access Centre). Each province has a separate organization that administers home care and long-term care support.

If a home assessment is deemed necessary, they will organize one for you. This assessment will uncover what government help you are eligible to have come to you or your loved one's home, and what type of day programs or additional services are available. If your loved one is a veteran, your local health authority may suggest that you contact veteran's affairs to explore eligible benefits as well.

Step 2: Transitioning from hospital to home

If your loved one is hospitalized and returning home, resources are available in the hospital to help ensure a smooth transition. Your nursing staff or social worker will help to connect you with government-funded services, should they be required. Be aware that caring for a loved one with dementia presents unique considerations. Consider calling your local Alzheimer's society if your loved one is experiencing cognitive decline, and make an appointment to have a phone meeting with one of its counsellors. These counsellors were invaluable to me when I was taking care of my relatives, and I recommend this step to all of my clients. Your local Alzheimer's Society can recommend some helpful resources and insight tailored to your particular circumstances. .

Step 3: Gather your personal team

Decide how your team of family members and friends can help. Divide up responsibilities for care and care management. Often, this role falls on the person who lives closest to the person in need of help, but think creatively: What can someone who lives far away do? Can he make calls? Can she do online research? The Canadian government offers some caregiver benefits. Consult with an accountant to see if family members that want to take on larger caregiving roles would be eligible.

Step 4: Fill in the gaps

Private in-home care services are available throughout Canada. These services can consist of nursing care, personal support for activities of daily living, physiotherapy, foot care or geriatric consulting. If the team you have put together is not enough and your finances permit it, private services can be a good option. Explore insurance benefit packages to see if any of these private services are covered.

Step 5: Would a change in environment be an option?

This can be a loaded topic, but might your loved one consider a move to a local senior's community where care and social activities are provided? Government-funded senior's communities can have a long waiting list, but private senior's communities generally have short to no waiting list.

This process is not necessarily smooth but there is help. Putting a plan in place before a crisis hits can greatly reduce stress and ensure that you or your loved one is cared for in the best way possible. Make sure you take advantage of everything available to you. Good luck!

Renée Henriques is a registered nurse and the owner and managing director of ComForcare Home Care Toronto. Her passion for seniors and their families stems from her past work as a neurosurgical nurse, and a lengthy caregiving journey with her own family members.