Rural and Remote Caregiving Issues Supporting Caregivers in the East Kootenay and Columbia Valley By Tobi Johnston M.A., M.S.W.
Caring for an elderly person can be hard work. Balancing life and family while juggling the role of caregiver can often lead to burnout, stress and isolation. Furthermore, navigating the system as a caregiver can be confusing and frustrating. That is why the Caregivers Network for East Kootenay Seniors believes that providing emotional support, information about community resources and help to navigate the system is essential to a caregiver’s well-being.
The Caregivers Network for East Kootenay Seniors has been servicing and supporting caregivers in the East Kootenay region for over 15 years. Through the foresight and funding from the Interior Health Authority our program is intended to support and help caregivers caring for seniors. Through our toll free telephone support line and our support groups for caregivers in six communities throughout the region, our organization has access to hundreds of caregiver voices in the province of British Columbia. In the month of October 2016 alone over 140 individual caregivers were helped by our organization.
Our experience in supporting caregivers has taught us that caregiving in our region carries with it some regional-specific challenges. We serve a mountainous region that is greater than the size of Switzerland but with a population that could probably fit within BC Place Stadium. As such, our region faces difficulty in delivering services in a cost effective manner to communities that are remote from one another.
The population in our region reside in either small communities or rural areas. Seniors wishing to remain in their home and stay active in their communities therefore face barriers not necessarily encountered in large urban settings. These barriers include limited support to facilitate independent living and limited housing and transportation options. Moreover, seniors – and their caregivers – often must travel far from their communities or even leave the region to access health services. Not only is the travel a physical and logistical burden, but there is a financial cost as well.
Many caregivers in the East Kootenay and Columbia Valley have stated that a better system of homecare and support services is needed for the region’s aging population. While seniors throughout the province need transportation to and from medical appointments, domestic help, and support from and for caregivers, the situation in our region is potentially more acute given both our geographic challenges as well as the fact the population of the region is older than the provincial average. Throw in the Canadian winters and mountainous terrain and service delivery becomes an even greater challenge.
Caregivers everywhere carry a heavy burden, but those in our region face some additional challenges that are specific to our context. These women and men soldier on with tenacity but should not be alone in caring for an elderly loved one. Outside assistance is essential, no matter the difficulty involved in connecting caregivers to support they need over a vast geographic area. The Caregivers Network for East Kootenay Seniors has done a great deal to establish these connections and we are committed to continuing to reach out and support caregivers and the seniors they are caring for.