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Fall Prevention Month: Addressing the Needs of Caregivers

While more prevalent amongst seniors, frailty can affect people at any age. Fall prevention awareness is essential for anyone living with frailty – and those who assist and care for them. Our contributing editor for Fall Prevention Month, Dr. Eoghan O’Shea attended a frailty conference on behalf of the CMA, where he heard presentations relating to frailty and the need for caregiver support.

The Canadian Frailty Network (CFN) encourages local communities to implement programs to normalize frailty-friendly environments and promote fall prevention, reducing the strain on emergency workers and decreasing the frequency of 911 calls. These programs encourage changes on individual, organizational and systematic levels.

A normalized, frailty-friendly city requires a cultural shift, wherein looking after the frail population becomes a group effort:raising awareness, building relationships, collaboration, social supports to combat isolation, decreasing over-emphasis on acute care and improving the quality-of-life supports that allow seniors to remain at home as long as possible. Libraries,art galleries, schools, places of worship, hospitals and business communities need to adopt a senior-friendly lens. Creating frailty-friendly communities provides much-needed support and relief to caregivers – many of whom work outside the home. Workplaces might not be as understanding about absences to care for a frail senior as they would be for a parent looking after a sick child.  

The panel on frailty-friendly communities included Flora Dell, gerontologist and advocate, Jeff Moat, CEO of Pallium Canada, Florence Campbell, advocate and volunteer with Compassionate Kingston and Debbie Delancey, former Deputy of Health and Social Services in the Northwest Territories. [1]

In her opening keynote, Francesca Grosso [2] noted that caregivers of individuals with frailty have expressed the need for financial and emotional support – most are never asked how they’re feeling and coping. Caregivers described the conflict in their lives: being on-call constantly, having to deal with bureaucratic inflexibility and arguing about micromanaging, to name a few. The stress and strain on caregivers has a direct effect on their ability to provide safe, quality care. If caregivers don’t get enough sleep, they can’t effectively care for their loved ones. Just as when there’s an emergency on a plane and you’re taught that you must secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to assist others, caregivers must look after themselves first, if they’re to properly look after someone else. Resources should be available to give caregivers a break or respite in a timely manner.

It’s also very important to address psycho-social needs and to assure that caregivers are looking after themselves physically. This involves communities at large asking themselves challenging questions: what are the needs that must be addressed, and what are they willing and prepared to do,to help the people who need it.

Just as frailty is treatable and preventable, it is possible to provide comprehensive support to the individuals caring for people with frailty. It’s no small task, though. Communities need to ask themselves difficult questions and work together to implement meaningful solutions and changes for the betterment of entire populations.

[1] Dell, Flora M. et al. What does a“frailty-friendly” community look like and how can we get there? Presented by Joyce Resin at the 5th National CFN Conference, September 20, 2018

[2] Grosso,Francesca. Reflections on caregiving and how improving frailty care for older adults can benefit all Canadians. Presented by Francesca Grosso at the 5th National CFN Conference, September 20, 2018