Researchers examine mental health and well-being of Canada’s unpaid caregivers

New study looks at how race, ethnicity, sex, gender and age impact the experiences of unpaid caregivers across the country
woman helping a senior woman who is using a cane to walk

(photo by Patricia Kovac/iStockphoto)

A new nationwide study led by Monica Parry, a professor in the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, will examine the intersections of race, ethnicity, sex, gender and age as they relate to the health and well-being of unpaid caregivers.

The study, which will be conducted by Parry and a team of researchers from across Canada, is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Monica Parry (supplied image)

Parry notes that almost one-third of Canadians provide unpaid caregiving – which can encompass personal, psychological, physical, social and financial care for someone with a long-term health condition, disability or with increased needs due to aging. In 2020, Parry conducted a six-month rapid review of the experiences of unpaid caregivers, with a particular focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her study found that caregivers were reporting over 40 hours of unpaid caregiving per week – the equivalent of a full-time job. But the respondents were not necessarily reflective of the Canadian population.

“Race and ethnicity were not well reported – and yet we know that almost one in five people in Canada are born outside the country, so there is a large gap in our understanding of the health and well-being of a significant portion of the population and their caregiving experience,” Parry says.

This is significant because unpaid caregivers are often faced with increased health risks. Parry’s previous study found that unpaid caregiving was associated with high amounts of stress, anxiety and depression – which in turn can lead to the development of chronic illness such as cardiovascular disease, in addition to ongoing negative impacts on mental health.

To ensure that this current study is more reflective of Canada’s population, the research team is working closely with partners in the community – including the Pentecost International Worship Centre, the Council for Agencies Serving South Asians and the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care, among others – to recruit participants.

Parry and her collaborators are also encouraging those who identify as unpaid caregivers and who are 18 or older to consider participating by completing an online survey.

The study includes an engagement advisory committee made up of unpaid caregivers who have shared their lived experiences in a series of videos to encourage participation from their peers.

“We have heard from our members of the community that until they had taken our survey, they had not recognized their own needs as caregivers and the impact of caregiving on their health,” Parry says.

“I think this illustrates just how important this study is in helping us understand what caregivers are experiencing and what they will need in the future.”

Parry adds that as a result of the pandemic, unpaid caregiving is increasing because many people simply do not want to see their family members or friends in long-term care settings, which were hit hard by COVID-19.

Caregivers are doing “heroic things” just to keep their loved ones at home, often juggling caregiving with everyday work and family responsibilities, Parry says.

“We truly want to include the voices of all unpaid caregivers and paint a full picture of what their needs are, and how caregiving impacts them.” 

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