Providing ongoing support for someone with a debilitating or chronic illness is a difficult job.
It is a 24/7 responsibility, and often falls on a family member – most likely a spouse – who is unused to the demands.
Karen Wakita, a semi-retired registered nurse who runs two caregiver support groups, says the act of communicating with people in similar situations can be very helpful.
“In group chats, it’s amazing how people support each other,” Wakita said.
“By even coming to the group, and listening to people’s different situations, and how they are coping, participants gain a lot of knowledge.”
Group members can find out about agencies and community services to access, as well as gain a kinship, Wakita said.
“We’re all in the same boat,” she continued. “We share some of the worries we have, and the stress, and can express it freely without judgment.”
COVID-19 has made it increasingly difficult for caregivers to access some services and groups.
Wakita said she is hoping that there is a possibility of establishing Caregiver Cafe, a support group she runs, at the United Church in Maple Ridge by October.
She said the details are yet to be determined, but she knows numbers will be limited to 10 or less participants.
Some groups, like the local Alzheimer’s society, which Wakita also facilitates, have a phone-in service – so caregivers who are feeling isolated can call and receive one-one-one support.
“People can start to feel like there’s nobody to listen to them, and with COVID, they’re even more stuck, and more isolated, so the phone support – while limited in its ability – can at least provide some connection.”
Wakita became an advocate for supporting caregivers, while she was looking after her father, who suffered from dementia.
“As his disease progressed, he would have set patterns of going walking in the park,” she said.
“People in the park would recognize him, and they knew where he belonged, so if he ever got lost, they would be able to alert me or direct him towards home.”
Wakita said it is this buy-in and support from the community around a caregiver that is crucial.
“These kind of things are really important, it is up to the surrounding neighbours and community to try and help the caregivers – as well as support the person who has dementia – who’s able to function to a certain degree in the community with these supports.”
It can be as simple as a phone call, Wakita suggested.
“Just ring someone up and ask them how there day is going,” she said. “Those simple things are so important, it reduces the isolation to a certain degree.
“Try and boost them up, because they need that help.”
Other supports for caregivers include Caregivers Connect through the Maple Ridge Seniors Centre, and Purple Angel Dementia support, which was meeting once a week at the CEED Centre.