Better Questions Lead to Better Care for Alberta’s Seniors

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Catherine grew up watching her parents care for her aging grandparents. She’s almost always lived in a multi-generational family home.

“That’s just how it was. A lot of it was cultural. We’re from a big Italian family. Everyone sort of looked after one another,” she remembers. “At 62, I’m filling that role for my own parents. They moved in with my husband and I about seven years ago, and we’ve been their primary caregivers ever since.”

That road hasn’t always been easy. Now approaching 90, Catherine’s parents are facing a whole host of different needs. As their daily requirements evolve, and mobility wains, she finds herself stretched far beyond the kind of tasks she was handling when they first moved in together.

“We’re trying to balance their autonomy—which they desperately want—with their medical and caregiving needs. I know we need more help than we’re getting now. But at the same time, I feel a lot of guilt,” she explains. “My mom and dad took care of their own parents. Part of me feels I have to do it exactly the same way they did. I can see it’s not really sustainable, though. I feel bad about that.”

Catherine’s not alone in those feelings. Research shows guilt is a common theme among caregivers, especially those supporting a loved one with dementia. Whether overwhelmed by the responsibilities at hand or frustrated by their inability to meet a relative’s needs—guilt and many other emotions are often wrapped up in caregiving. In fact, the Alberta Medical Association pegs caregiver duties as a considerable source of stress in the lives of family members looking after seniors. Surveys show 42% of family caregivers rate their stress level between 8 and 10 on 10.

For many, the pandemic only made matters worse. Here in Alberta, almost 70% of family caregivers (including those looking after seniors) say their mental health declined in 2020 and 2021. Even more reported an uptick in anxiety. And while nearly one-third cited difficulty navigating the health and care systems effectively during the pandemic, 11% worried they would have to give up on caregiving altogether.

For families like Catherine’s, though, caregiving doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision. She’s decided to move her parents into a nearby condo building better suited to seniors. While she’ll still be their primary support, Catherine’s now exploring professional caregiving options to provide a more holistic approach to overall care. She’s balancing emotional and practical realities to find a collaborative approach that is designed to meet her parents’ needs—while cutting down her own stress.

Finding the right caregiving model won’t be the same for everyone. The key lies in asking the right questions of caregivers at the front end to ensure families, caregivers and the seniors at the heart of the discussion are all on the same page. Keeping these three fundamentals in mind can be a good way to start alleviating strain, and working towards a positive caregiving solution:

  1. How are your caregivers certified? Qualifications are essential. Work with the home care team you’re considering to understand how caregivers are qualified beyond their own personal experience. In Alberta, certified healthcare aides complete provincial exams to ensure competency. Don’t settle for anything less.


  1. Who manages the care plan and how will they account for medical needs? Aging is complex. Learn how the professional who’ll manage your loved one’s care plan will be matched against specific health requirements and overall capabilities. You want to know there’s a qualified professional connecting the dots, and providing clarity for everyone involved. For example, when health care aides and nurses work together, they can bring additional depth to care management, providing robust reassurance for seniors and their families.


  1. How will you foster reliability and consistency across the care continuum? Relationships are important. When choosing the right home care option for your loved one, also assess the broader team. Dig deep to understand who that entails, how staff will fill in if someone is sick or unavailable, and whether everyone has the same qualifications. Working with a reputable home care provider with a strong talent base means you won’t have to worry or compromise on priorities. Whether that means knowing you’re accessing a nurse or feeling confident that all caregivers are able to drive to and from appointments: get all the information you need to be completely confident in your caregiving solution.

What’s the key takeaway?

Family caregiving involves an intricate web of emotions and feelings. Reinforcing yourself with additional resources who can meet needs and alleviate stress doesn’t just ensure your loved one can live and age well at home. It also makes for a happier, less guilty you. That’s important.

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