Family caregiving: What are the consequences?

by Martin Turcotte

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Overview of the study

What types of caregivers provide the most hours and kinds of care? Which ones are the most likely to experience various consequences associated with family caregiving? This article compares the different types of family caregivers, based on the relationship with their primary care receiver.

  • In 2012, 8 million Canadians, or 28% of the population aged 15 and over, provided care to family members or friends with a long-term health condition, a disability or problems associated with aging.
  • Among these family caregivers, 39%  primarily cared for their father or mother, 8% for their spouse or partner, and 5% for their child. The remaining (48%)  provided care to other family members or friends.
  • Among regular caregivers—those who spent at least 2 hours caregiving each week—38% of those who helped their child, 34% who helped their spouse and 21% who helped their parents reported feeling depressed. Those who cared for a spouse or child also reported more health and psychological problems, mainly because of the intensity of care provided.
  • Among regular caregivers, 28% who cared for a child and 20% who cared for a spouse experienced financial difficulties as a result of their caregiving responsibilities. This proportion was 7% among those who regularly helped their parents.
  • In 2012, 30% of caregivers of children received government financial assistance, compared with 14% of caregivers of spouses and 5% of caregivers of parents. However, 52% of caregivers of children, 42% of caregivers of spouses and 28% of caregivers of parents would have liked more help than they received.

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Introduction

Most people will, at some point in their life, help a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or problems related to aging. Providing care has many benefits. In addition to reducing the social costs associated with health services and institutionalization, it also benefits the care receiver, allowing them to remain at home and maintain a better quality of life.

However, at times there can also be negative consequences, especially for caregivers. These include the impact on their physical and mental health and their participation in the labour force, pressures on their personal finances, and reduced time available for other activities.Note 1 Employers and governments may also be impacted, notably because of absenteeism, lost productivity and reduced tax revenues.

A number of Canadian studies have focused on family caregivers 45 years of age and over, particularly those providing care to aging parents.Note 2 However, fewer studies  provide information about caregivers of all ages who help or provide long-term care to their spouse or partner (hereafter referred to as 'spouse'), child, parent, extended family, or friend.

This study uses new data to shed light on all family caregivers aged 15 and over in Canada. First, this article takes a brief look at family caregivers—particularly the intensity and type of care provided—based on their relationship to their care recipient.

Second, it examines data on the many consequences associated with caregiving responsibilities. Are some types of caregivers more likely than others to experience psychological, social or financial consequences? If so, why?

Statistics Canada’s most recent source of information on family caregivers is the 2012 General Social Survey on Caregiving and Care Receiving (see Data source and definitions). Family caregivers are defined as people aged 15 and over who responded that they had, in the previous 12 months, either provided help or care to a person with a long-term health condition or a physical or mental disability, or with problems related to aging.

Nearly 3 in 10 people are family caregivers

In 2012, slightly more than 8 million Canadians, or 28% of people aged 15 and over, had provided help or care to a relative or friend with a chronic health problem (help for short-term sickness is excluded).

As shown in previous studies, family caregivers were more likely to be women: 30% of women reported that they provided care in 2012, in comparison with 26% of men. However, the magnitude of the gap between male and female caregivers varied across age groups (Chart 1).Note 3

Chart 1 for Family caregiving article

Description for Chart 1

Who did these family caregivers help? Roughly 4 in 10 caregivers aged 15 and over, or approximately 3.1 million people, had provided care primarily to their father or mother during the previous year—27% to their mother and 11% to their father, while 19% cared for a parent-in-law or another family member (excluding spouses, children and grandparents), 16% helped a close friend or neighbour, 13% a grandfather or grandmother, 8% their spouse, and 5% their child (always for a long-term health problem or disability).

The type of relationship between the primary care receiver and the family caregiver varied according to the age of the caregiver (Chart 2). For example, the likelihood of providing care to one’s spouse, or to a friend or neighbour, increased with the age of the caregiver. In the 45-to-64 age group, which was strongly represented among family caregivers, approximately half were providing care primarily to their mother or father.

Chart 2 for Family caregiving article

Description for Chart 2

The type of health problem requiring care varied depending on the relationship between the caregiver and the recipient. Among family caregivers providing care primarily to their parents, 30% reported that the health problem was aging or frailty. Next came cardiovascular disease (12%), cancer (11%) and Alzheimer’s or dementia (7%) (Table 1). Cancer was most frequently cited (17%) by those caring for their spouse, followed by cardiovascular disease (11%) and other neurological diseases (9%).

Table 1
Main reasons why family caregivers provide care to their primary care receiver, by relationship to primary care receiver, 2012

Table summary
This table displays the results of main reasons why family caregivers provide care to their primary care receiver. The information is grouped by reasons (appearing as row headers), main recipient, calculated using grandparent, friend, neighbour or colleague, father-in-law, mother-in-law or other family member, father or mother, partner and son or daughter units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Reasons Primary care receiver
Grandparent Friend, neighbour or colleague Father-in-law, mother-in-law or other family member Father or mother Spouse Son or daughter
First Aging / frailty
(56%)
Aging / frailty
(27%)
Aging / frailty
(25%)
Aging / frailty
(30%)
Cancer
(17%)
Mental health problemsNote 1 (23%)
Second Alzheimer's or dementia
(8%)
Cancer
(13%)
Cancer
(13%)
Cardiovascular diseaseNote 2 (12%) Cardiovascular diseaseNote 2 (11%) Developmental problem or disability
(22%)
Third Cancer
(8%)
Mental health problemsNote 1 (11%) Cardiovascular diseaseNote 2 (9%) Cancer
(11%)
Other neurological diseaseNote 3 (9%) Other neurological diseaseNote 3 (14%)
Fourth Cardiovascular diseaseNote 2 (7%) Cardiovascular diseaseNote 2 (8%) Mental health problemsNote 1 (8%) Alzheimer's or dementia
(7%)
Mental health problemsNote 1 (7 %) Injury resulting from an accident
(6%)

Parents providing care to their child stood out the most in terms of health their care receivers' problems: 23% cared for a child with mental illness (depression, bipolar disorder, manic depression or schizophrenia); 22% cited developmental problems or disabilities; and 14% reported other neurological diseases (such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida and cerebral palsy).

A full-time job for some

The relationship with the care receiver, as well as the health problem, also has an impact on the amount of time spent caregiving. In general, those caring for their child or spouse spent more hours providing care than others.

Thus, in 2012, the median number of hours family caregivers spent caring for their father or mother was 4 hours per week (Table 2). The median for a parent-in-law or other relative was 3 hours. In comparison, caring for a child required 10 hours of commitment per week, and caring for a spouse, 14 hours.Note 4

Table 2
Characteristics of family caregivers, by relationship to primary care receiver, 2012

Table summary
This table displays the results of characteristics of family caregivers, by relationship to primary care receiver, grandparent, friend, neighbour or colleague, father-in-law, mother-in-law or other family member, father or mother, partner and son or daughter, calculated using percentage and hours units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Primary care receiver
Grandparent Friend, neighbour or colleague Father-in-law, mother-in-law or other family member Father or mother Spouse Son or daughter
percentage
Sex  
Men 44 46 46 47 50 35
Women 56 54 54 53 50 65Note with asterisk for table 2*
Number of hours of care or help per week  
1 hour or less 39Note with asterisk for table 2* 35Note with asterisk for table 2* 26 23 10Note with asterisk for table 2* 10Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 2*
2 to 4 hours 35 37Note with asterisk for table 2* 35 32 17Note with asterisk for table 2* 18Note with asterisk for table 2*
5 to 9 hours 12Note with asterisk for table 2* 15Note with asterisk for table 2* 17 19 13Note with asterisk for table 2* 14Note with asterisk for table 2*
10 to 29 hours 13Note with asterisk for table 2* 10Note with asterisk for table 2* 16 19 29Note with asterisk for table 2* 29Note with asterisk for table 2*
30 hours or more Note F: too unreliable to be published 3Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 2* 6 7 31Note with asterisk for table 2* 29Note with asterisk for table 2*
  hours
Number of hours of care (median) 2 2 3 4 14 10
  percentage
Distance between family caregiver and primary care receiver  
Same dwelling 12Note with asterisk for table 2* 4Note with asterisk for table 2* 16Note with asterisk for table 2* 24 95Note with asterisk for table 2* 68Note with asterisk for table 2*
Less than 30 minutes by car 64Note with asterisk for table 2* 82Note with asterisk for table 2* 58Note with asterisk for table 2* 50 4Note with asterisk for table 2* 20Note with asterisk for table 2*
Between 30 minutes and less than 3 hours by car 16 12Note with asterisk for table 2* 20 19 Note F: too unreliable to be published 9Note with asterisk for table 2*
3 hours or more by car 7 2Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 2* 5Note with asterisk for table 2* 8 Note F: too unreliable to be published 3Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 2*
Types of care or help provided to primary care receiverNote 1 for table 21  
Transportation 25Note with asterisk for table 2* 30Note with asterisk for table 2* 36Note with asterisk for table 2* 41 63Note with asterisk for table 2* 65Note with asterisk for table 2*
Meal preparation, cleaning, dishes 31Note with asterisk for table 2* 19Note with asterisk for table 2* 31Note with asterisk for table 2* 37 77Note with asterisk for table 2* 58Note with asterisk for table 2*
Interior or exterior house maintenance 21Note with asterisk for table 2* 13Note with asterisk for table 2* 15Note with asterisk for table 2* 26 52Note with asterisk for table 2* 14Note with asterisk for table 2*
Personal care 8Note with asterisk for table 2* 7Note with asterisk for table 2* 10Note with asterisk for table 2* 15 39Note with asterisk for table 2* 36Note with asterisk for table 2*
Medical procedures or treatments 9Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 2* 6Note with asterisk for table 2* 10Note with asterisk for table 2* 14 43Note with asterisk for table 2* 37Note with asterisk for table 2*
Organization of or managing care (e.g., making appointments) 4Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 2* 5Note with asterisk for table 2* 9Note with asterisk for table 2* 12 27Note with asterisk for table 2* 30Note with asterisk for table 2*
Banking, paying bills or managing finances 3Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 2* 3Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 2* 7Note with asterisk for table 2* 13 33Note with asterisk for table 2* 14
Visit or phone call to ensure everything was fine 97Note with asterisk for table 2* 91Note with asterisk for table 2* 96Note with asterisk for table 2* 99 100Note with asterisk for table 2* 100
Emotional support 83Note with asterisk for table 2* 84Note with asterisk for table 2* 87Note with asterisk for table 2* 92 96Note with asterisk for table 2* 97Note with asterisk for table 2*
Caregivers providing at least 7 types of servicesNote 2 for table 22 6Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 2* 5Note with asterisk for table 2* 10Note with asterisk for table 2* 21 41Note with asterisk for table 2* 34Note with asterisk for table 2*
Family caregiver...  
Is considered the primary caregiver by the primary care receiver 9Note with asterisk for table 2* 24Note with asterisk for table 2* 28Note with asterisk for table 2* 46 96Note with asterisk for table 2* 76Note with asterisk for table 2*
Believes he or she had no option but to be caregiver 22Note with asterisk for table 2* 19Note with asterisk for table 2* 37Note with asterisk for table 2* 49 69Note with asterisk for table 2* 74Note with asterisk for table 2*

Some caregivers provided care on a basis equivalent to a full-time job: 31% of those caring for their spouse and 29% of those caring for their child had done so for 30 hours or more per week. In contrast, this was the case for 7% of those caring for their father or mother and an even lower proportion for other types of caregivers.

Consequently, family caregivers whose primary care receiver was their child or spouse (14% of caregivers) accounted for 36% of all hours provided by family caregivers, or approximately 84 million hours per week.Note 5 On the other hand, people caring for their parents (39% of caregivers) accounted for 35% of all hours of care provided by family caregivers per week.

It must be noted that the majority of family caregivers who provided care to their spouse (95%) or child (68%) lived in the same home as the care receiver. In comparison, 24% of those caring for their father or mother shared the same home and the proportion was even smaller for other caregivers. Spouses and children were, therefore, the most likely to benefit from shared living arrangements with their caregiver.

Those providing care to their spouse or child also carried out a greater number and variety of tasks. Some activities, for example, visits or phone calls to check on the person and providing emotional support, were performed by the vast majority of caregivers. Other tasks—personal care and medical treatments for example—are sometimes more onerous and were carried out by fewer caregivers. Of the nine types of tasks listed in the survey, 41% of people caring for their spouse and 34% of those caring for their child had performed seven or more. In comparison, 21% of those caring for their parents had done so, as had 10% or less of the rest of caregivers.

In addition to spending more hours and performing more specialized tasks (medical treatments for example), those caring for their spouse or child were more likely to be considered the primary caregiver. They were also more likely to say that they had no choice but to take on their caregiving responsibilities (3 in 4 of those caring for a child, compared with about 1 in 5 among those caring for a grandparent, friend or colleague).

Psychological consequences

Having too many tasks and responsibilities when caring for a family member or friend can be a major source of stress, especially when caregivers feel they lack the resources to meet the needs of their care receiver.Note 6 What are the physical, psychological and social consequences of providing care to someone with a long-term health problem, disability or aging needs?

The General Social Survey (GSS) asked ’regular’ family caregivers about the impact their caregiving responsibilities had on their lives.Note 7 Regular caregivers are defined as those who provided at least 2 hours of care per week.

Regular caregivers who cared for their spouse or child—and, to a lesser extent, those who cared for their own parents—were more likely to report signs of psychological distress than other caregivers (Table 3). For example, 34% of regular caregivers who primarily cared for their grandfather or grandmother felt worried or distressed because of their responsibilities; this was the case for 60% of those caring for their father or mother, 74% of those caring for their spouse and 82% of those who primarily provided care to their child. Also, 38% of regular caregivers of a child and 34% of those of a spouse reported feeling depressed as a result of their caregiving responsibilities, compared with 21% of those providing care to their parents.

Table 3
Symptoms of psychological distress and health consequences associated with regular family caregiving, 2012

Table summary
This table displays the results of symptoms of psychological distress and health consequences associated with regular family caregiving main recipient, grandparent, friend, neighbour or colleague, father-in-law, mother-in-law or other family member, father or mother, partner and son or daughter, calculated using percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Primary care receiver
Grandparent Friend, neighbour or colleague Father-in-law, mother-in-law or other family member Father or mother Spouse Son or daughter
percentage
Symptoms of psychological distress  
In relation to caregiving responsibilitiesNote 2 for table 32
Tired 26Note with asterisk for table 3* 37Note with asterisk for table 3* 48Note with asterisk for table 3* 56 72Note with asterisk for table 3* 74Note with asterisk for table 3*
Worried or anxious 34Note with asterisk for table 3* 39Note with asterisk for table 3* 51Note with asterisk for table 3* 60 74Note with asterisk for table 3* 82Note with asterisk for table 3*
Overwhelmed 20Note with asterisk for table 3* 21Note with asterisk for table 3* 35 37 48Note with asterisk for table 3* 57Note with asterisk for table 3*
Alone or isolated 4Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 3* 10Note with asterisk for table 3* 11Note with asterisk for table 3* 18 38Note with asterisk for table 3* 41Note with asterisk for table 3*
Angry or irritable 17Note with asterisk for table 3* 21Note with asterisk for table 3* 33Note with asterisk for table 3* 42 47 56Note with asterisk for table 3*
Unhappy 8Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 3* 14Note with asterisk for table 3* 18Note with asterisk for table 3* 21 28Note with asterisk for table 3* 30Note with asterisk for table 3*
Depressed 6Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 3* 13Note with asterisk for table 3* 16Note with asterisk for table 3* 21 34Note with asterisk for table 3* 38Note with asterisk for table 3*
Loss of appetite 7Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 3* 8Note with asterisk for table 3* 10Note with asterisk for table 3* 14 18Note with asterisk for table 3* 20Note with asterisk for table 3*
Sleep problems 16Note with asterisk for table 3* 22Note with asterisk for table 3* 30Note with asterisk for table 3* 36 55Note with asterisk for table 3* 58Note with asterisk for table 3*
Health consequences  
Overall health suffered 5Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 3* 11Note with asterisk for table 3* 14Note with asterisk for table 3* 22 38Note with asterisk for table 3* 38Note with asterisk for table 3*
Responsibilities physically strenuous Note F: too unreliable to be published 27Note E: Use with caution 39 33 32 55Note with asterisk for table 3*
Has consulted a health professional for own health problems associated with caregiving responsibilitiesNote 2 for table 32 7Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 3* 13Note with asterisk for table 3* 15 18 33Note with asterisk for table 3* 34Note with asterisk for table 3*
Has suffered injuries while caregiving Note F: too unreliable to be published 3Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 3* 2Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 3* 6 8 14Note with asterisk for table 3*

People caring for a spouse or child were also more likely to have felt angry or irritable, unhappy, alone or isolated and to have experienced sleep problems because of their responsibilities. These differences can be explained by the fact that people caring for a spouse or child spend more hours providing care, perform more tasks and more often are considered the primary caregiver by the recipient (see Explaining the gaps between types of caregivers).

In addition, many caregivers report multiple signs of psychological distress. In fact, more than one-quarter of all regular caregivers reported 5 or more such symptoms out of a possible 9. However, the proportion of caregivers with this level of psychological distress varied substantially—it was the case for 8% of those who cared for their grandfather or grandmother, 30% of those who helped their father or mother, 46% of those who looked after their partner, and 51% of those who provided care to their own child (Chart 3).

Chart 3 for Family caregiving article

Description for Chart 3

Health consequences

Several studies have highlighted the relationship between family caregiving and psychological and physical health problems, and found that the intensity of the care is associated with a greater impact on the caregiver’s health.Note 8

Regular caregivers to children or spouses were more likely than others to report health consequences (Table 3).Note 9 They were also more likely to have sustained an injury and to have seen a medical professional for health problems resulting from carrying out their tasks (34% of those caring for their child and 33% of those caring for their spouse, compared with 18% of those caring for their father or mother). They were also more likely than other caregivers to have been prescribed medications to cope with their responsibilities.

People providing care to their parents—the most common type of caregiver—were also the most numerous needing health services: out of 1 million regular family caregivers who consulted a medical professional as a result of their caregiving responsibilities, 402,000 were caring for their parents; 175,000, their spouse; and 120,000, their child.

Financial and professional consequences

Many family caregivers must incur out-of-pocket expenses associated with their responsibilities. For some, this financial commitment is not inconsequential, since it can have an impact on disposable income and personal savings.Note 10 The most common expenses, incurred by more than half of regular caregivers, were related to providing transportation, travel and accommodation.

For some types of expenses, those regularly caring for a spouse or child stood out from others. For example, they were four times more likely than caregivers to parents to have reported expenses for professional or rehabilitation services (Table 4). Also, while 52% of those caring for a spouse and 42% caring for a child had spent money on medications, only 11% of caregivers to parents had done so.

Table 4
Financial consequences associated with regular family caregiving,Note 1 for table 41 2012

Table summary
This table displays the results of financial consequences associated with regular family caregiving main recipient, grandparent, friend, neighbour or colleague, father-in-law, mother-in-law or other family member, father or mother, partner and son or daughter, calculated using percentage, dollars and percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Primary care receiver
Grandparent Friend, neighbour or colleague Father-in-law, mother-in-law or other family member Father or mother Spouse Son or daughter
percentage
Incurred caregiving expenses (not reimbursed)  
Dwelling modifications Note F: too unreliable to be published 7Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4* 10 12 13 16
Professional or rehabilitation services Note F: too unreliable to be published 3Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4* 4Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4* 5 20Note with asterisk for table 4* 23Note with asterisk for table 4*
Hiring of people to help with daily activities Note F: too unreliable to be published 2Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4* 5 5 11Note with asterisk for table 4* 10Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4*
Transportation, travel, accommodation 39Note with asterisk for table 4* 50 52 54 48Note with asterisk for table 4* 67Note with asterisk for table 4*
Specialized devices or equipment Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 7 9 22Note with asterisk for table 4* 23Note with asterisk for table 4*
Prescription and non-prescription drugs 5Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4* 7Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4* 7Note with asterisk for table 4* 11 52Note with asterisk for table 4* 42Note with asterisk for table 4*
Amount spent over the year on various expenses (not reimbursed)  
$0 58Note with asterisk for table 4* 46Note with asterisk for table 4* 38 37 23Note with asterisk for table 4* 17Note with asterisk for table 4*
$1 to less than $500 27 34Note with asterisk for table 4* 25 22 15Note with asterisk for table 4* 7Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4*
$500 to less than $2,000 11Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4* 14Note with asterisk for table 4* 22 23 23 29Note with asterisk for table 4*
$2,000 or more 5Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4* 6Note with asterisk for table 4* 15Note with asterisk for table 4* 18 38Note with asterisk for table 4* 47Note with asterisk for table 4*
  dollars
Total median amount spent  
All caregivers (including those with no expenses) 0 50Note with asterisk for table 4* 175Note with asterisk for table 4* 240 1,040Note with asterisk for table 4* 1,700Note with asterisk for table 4*
Family caregivers who incurred expenses 300Note with asterisk for table 4* 300Note with asterisk for table 4* 600Note with asterisk for table 4* 890 1,900Note with asterisk for table 4* 2,310Note with asterisk for table 4*
  percentage
Finances over the last 12 months  
Experienced financial difficulties associated with caregiving Note F: too unreliable to be published 3Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4* 6 7 20Note with asterisk for table 4* 28Note with asterisk for table 4*
Borrowed money from family or friends Note F: too unreliable to be published 1Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4* 2Note E: Use with caution 2 7Note with asterisk for table 4* 10Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4*
Borrowed from a bank or financial institution Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 3Note E: Use with caution 2Note E: Use with caution 7Note with asterisk for table 4* 12Note with asterisk for table 4*
Depleted or deferred savings Note F: too unreliable to be published 2Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4* 4 5 15Note with asterisk for table 4* 21Note with asterisk for table 4*
Changed spending habits Note F: too unreliable to be published 3Note E: use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 4* 6 6 19Note with asterisk for table 4* 27Note with asterisk for table 4*

Not surprisingly, the amounts spent varied considerably depending on the relationship between caregiver and recipient. For example, 16% of caregivers to grandparents spent at least $500 on out-of-pocket expenses, compared with 41% of those caring for parents and 76% caring for children. Nearly half of the parents providing care to their children spent $2,000 or more during the past 12 months.

These additional expenses can create serious financial pressures. In 2012, among family caregivers, 28% of those caring for a child, 20% of those caring for a spouse and 7% of those caring for a parent reported financial hardship because of their caregiving responsibilities. Of those caring for a child, 10% even had to borrow money from friends or family, and 12% had to take out a loan from a financial institution.

In addition to financial difficulties, many caregivers must combine their caregiving duties with professional obligations, which may result in loss of hours and a reduction in productivity.Note 11

As might be expected, those who provided care to their child or spouse had the most difficulty reconciling caregiving responsibilities with professional obligations. For example, they were substantially more likely than others to have taken leave three or more times (sometimes for several consecutive days) because of their responsibilities (Chart 4).

Chart 4 for Family caregiving article

Description for Chart 4

Labour market participation was also lower among those caring for their child. Among these, 27% had no job the previous week, compared with 9% to 20% for other caregivers.Note 12 In addition, among regular caregivers who had not worked in the previous 12 months, 34% of those caring for their child reported that their responsibilities had prevented them from holding a job, compared with approximately 10% of family caregivers caring for their father or mother.

Resources available for family caregivers

Various policies and programs, such as renovation credits, respite services, practical advice and emotional support, can facilitate the work of family caregivers. Also, intervention strategies designed to reduce stress, depression and other negative consequences for caregivers have been implemented by public health and social work experts. According to some studies, such interventions benefit not only family caregivers, they are also beneficial to care receivers (for example, by reducing the need to resort to institutionalization of the recipient immediately).Note 13

The above results show that those caring for their child or spouse are the most likely to experience the consequences associated with their caregiving responsibilities, followed by those caring for their father or mother (who account for the largest share of family caregivers). Are these family caregivers getting more support?

The great majority of caregivers received help from family members or friends to fulfill their role (Table 5).Note 14 However, they weren’t as likely to get respite care or financial support. In 2012, a minority of family caregivers received a federal tax credit for which caregivers may be eligible—that was the case for 3% of the 3.1 million family caregivers who provided care to their parents. In comparison, 28% of those who cared for their child received this federal tax credit.

Table 5
Types of support received by family caregivers and perception of that support, 2012

Table summary
This table displays the results of types of support received by family caregivers and perception of that support main recipient, grandparent, friend, neighbour or colleague, father-in-law, mother-in-law or other family member, father or mother, partner and son or daughter, calculated using percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Primary care receiver
Grandparent Friend, neighbour or colleague Father-in-law, mother-in-law or other family member Father or mother Spouse Son or daughter
percentage
Type of support  
Respite services 15 9Note with asterisk for table 5* 15 13 16 24Note with asterisk for table 5*
Help from other family members or friends to fulfil duties 98Note with asterisk for table 5* 92 95Note with asterisk for table 5* 93 65Note with asterisk for table 5* 91
Financial support from family and friends 24Note with asterisk for table 5* 9 10 11 10 16Note with asterisk for table 5*
Financial support from government programs 5Note E: Use with caution 3Note E: Use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 5* 4Note E: Use with caution 5 14Note with asterisk for table 5* 30Note with asterisk for table 5*
Federal tax credits for which caregivers could be eligible Note F: too unreliable to be published 1Note E: Use with cautionNote with asterisk for table 5* 4Note E: Use with caution 3 10Note with asterisk for table 5* 28Note with asterisk for table 5*
Perception of support received  
More assistance is needed to provide care than is being received 10Note with asterisk for table 5* 13Note with asterisk for table 5* 19Note with asterisk for table 5* 28 42Note with asterisk for table 5* 52Note with asterisk for table 5*

Family caregivers who cared for their child were also more likely to have received various forms of public support. For example, 30% of them received money from government programs, compared with 14% of those caring for a spouse and 5% of those caring for a parent.

Even though family caregivers who cared for their child or spouse were proportionally more likely to receive public support, they were also more likely to have unmet needs. When asked whether they needed more types of help than they were receiving, 52% of those caring for a child and 42% of those caring for a spouse said yes. In comparison, this was the case for 28% of those caring for a parent and 13% of those caring for a friend, colleague or neighbour.

Finally, although programs available to caregivers vary from one region of Canada to another,Note 15 the proportion of regular caregivers who had received money from a government program or a federal tax credit showed little variation from one province to another.

Conclusion

In Canada, many people care for a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or aging-related problem. Even though this caregiving is generally considered beneficial because of the savings achieved and the well-being of the care recipients, taking on such responsibilities can have consequences for caregivers. In particular, those who care for their child or spouse are more likely than others to be experiencing difficulties as a result of their tasks. In addition, they are more likely, because of their caregiving responsibilities, to experience psychological consequences, health effects, pressures on their personal finances and possible consequences in their career. Although they are more numerous, caregivers of older parents may be less burdened on average, but many of them still experience psychological consequences resulting from caregiving.

In the context of an aging population, lengthening life expectancy and the increasing prevalence of chronic illnesses, the demand for family caregivers will continue to grow.Note 16 Various demographic trends, for example, fewer children per family in the aging baby boomer generation than in their parent's generation, might influence the characteristics of family caregivers.Note 17

The results of this study also highlight the difficult situation of family caregivers who care for a sick child, which will remain of public interest in the coming years. The issue of family caregivers will therefore continue to be of interest to decision makers, health professionals and the general public.

Martin Turcotte is a senior analyst in the Labour Statistics Division, Statistics Canada.


Notes

  1. For example, various studies have shown that a large proportion of family caregivers often had to take time off work and work fewer hours (see Keating et al. 2013), often experienced stress and might put their own health at risk (see Pinquart and Sörensen 2013; Schulz and Sherwood 2008), and had to take on immediate and longer-term financial costs (see Keating et al. 2013).
  2. See, for example, Cranswick and Dosman 2008, and Pyper 2006.
  3. For details on the characteristics of family caregivers, see Sinha 2013.
  4. In general, women provided more hours of care than men when the recipient was their partner (a median of 15 hours versus 10 hours for men) or their child (14 hours versus 10 hours for men). When the recipient was the caregiver’s father or mother, the gap between men and women was smaller.
  5. Approximately 2% of family caregivers reported that they had provided 100 or more hours of care or help to their care recipients. These caregivers substantially raised the total number of hours provided per week.
  6. See Schulz and Martire 2004.
  7. In other words, the questions on the repercussions experienced by caregivers were not asked to those who provided 1 hour or less of help or care each week (24.5% of family caregivers) or to those who were unable to declare their number of caregiving hours (4.7%).
  8. See Schulz and Sherwood 2008.
  9. A multivariate analysis showed, as was the case for psychological distress, that the differences in types of caregivers were largely the result of the fact that the intensity of care provided varied greatly, the caregivers of grandparents generally provided fewer hours and types of care, the caregivers of partners and children were called upon the most, and the caregivers of parents fell between the two.
  10. See Keating et al. 2013.
  11. See Fast et al. 2013.
  12. Employment results are based on caregivers age 25 to 54 to focus on those least likely to be affected by education and retirement decisions.
  13. See Schulz and Martire 2004 for a review of some of these studies.
  14. In this section, caregivers who provided less than 2 hours of care are also included.
  15. See Bernier and Grignon 2012.
  16. According to projections, the number of seniors who will need help or care will double in the next 30 years. At the same time, the number of senior women with no surviving children will increase substantially (see Carrière et al. 2008).
  17. See Keefe 2011.

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