The Booming Caregiver Generation

Prepared caregivers

It’s one of the hardest facts of life.  As you get older, so do your parents.  The people that gave up so much to care for you are now turning to you for help.  But where do you start?  How do you give them the support that they need — coping with chronic conditions and multiple medications, while at the same time balancing your own already busy schedule?

According to Pat Irwin, founder of ElderCareCanada and expert in assisting adult children in caring for aging parents, the key to successful caregiving is being prepared.

“The role of caregiver can be incredibly stressful at first,” explains Irwin.  “In addition to being financially and physically draining, most people are caught off guard by how emotionally strenuous it is.  Knowing what to expect and how to handle it, as well as being prepared and putting support in place for emergency situations, can help alleviate a lot of the stress.”

Together with the MedicAlert Foundation Canada, Irwin has developed tips for caregivers coping with multiple health conditions, multiple medications and parents that are no longer able to manage their own healthcare.

Managing multiple conditions and medications
One-in-three seniors live with more than one chronic condition and it’s typical that they are on multiple medications.  Missing, mixing up and wrongly combining these medications could lead to dire consequences. 

  • Given that 10% of emergency room visits are due to errors in taking medications, it’s critical that your parents thoroughly understand their medication.
  • If your parent is having difficulties with their medication schedule — make sure they have a MedicAlert membership and keep the information on file up-to-date.  In case of emergency, MedicAlert can provide paramedics with medication details.
  • Try to use the same pharmacy for all prescriptions so that the pharmacist can check for contradictions between drugs — and ask if the pharmacy can deliver medication in pre-filled blister packs marked with the timing of the doses.

Caring from a distance
“Caring for your loved ones from a distance is possible, but you will need help and support,” says Irwin.  “Trying to contact your parent, fearing they are ill or in distress and alone is a frightening experience.”

  • Staying up-to-date on health conditions and medications from a distance is a big challenge.  Add to this list monitoring financial and banking information, coordinating grocery deliveries, transportation and much more, and you’ve got your hands full.  To assist you, identify an on-the-ground support system and service providers that you can trust.  On-the-ground support systems can be found by simply searching online for your local social service providers who can then refer you to the best subsidized or private advisors and assistants.
  • While family and neighbours may be great sources of guidance and information it is important to also obtain an objective professional assessment for your parent.  This should include a medical, cognitive and emotional assessment.  Your local Alzheimer Society can help with this. 
  • The MedicAlert Family Notification Service immediately calls family and emergency contacts once the hotline has been called.  This will ensure that no matter how far away you are, you will be aware of any emergency that may occur.  Make sure the emergency contact information is accurate and up-to-date on your parent’s file.
  • Ensure your family is prepared for emergencies by developing an ICE kit (In Case of Emergency) that can be placed in a convenient spot to grab when visiting the hospital. The ICE kit should include a list of all current conditions and medications, health card number, health insurance information and the MedicAlert wallet card that provides easy access to all this information.

Tips for caregivers from the Alzheimer Society of Canada
“1 in 11 Canadians over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia,” says Mary Schulz, Alzheimer Society of Canada.  “People with Alzheimer’s disease sometimes lose the ability to recognize familiar places, to communicate or to remember their own name or address.  They may leave home, become confused and get lost – which can be dangerous for them and worrisome for family and caregivers.”

  • When caring for those with Alzheimer’s disease it is important to learn as much as you can about the disease.  Find out how Alzheimer’s disease can affect a person, what changes you can expect and how you can provide help and support to maintain the person’s independence and quality of life.  Contact your local Alzheimer Society for useful information and resources or visit
  • Maintain good communication with your parent by listening and responding to everything they say.  To prevent confusion, call your parent or loved one by their name as much as possible. Also, ensure that you provide reassurance by touching them and showing affection.
  • As your loved one’s disease progresses you may find that they require help with daily tasks such as grooming, eating and dressing. You may find it difficult to juggle helping your loved one while ensuring they maintain their sense of independence. To prevent this from happening, give step-by-step instructions so they can contribute as much as possible to the task at hand.
  • Ensure that you have a plan in place for times when your parent may become lost or confused.  Wearing a medical ID is a good way to make sure they have important information on them at all times.