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Donna ThomsonNatural caregiving at home can be isolating. Alone with your loved one, it’s easy to lose connection to the neighbourhood and the supports in it.

Here are some community resources where help might be found:


Elementary schools may have a volunteer program for reading to children. Participating as a reader can provide a valuable opportunity for your elder loved one to add meaning and purpose to their week. Innovative teachers use local seniors to enhance history lessons or teach crafting skills. It’s worth calling the principal to enquire.

High schools frequently require students to complete volunteer hours in order to graduate. Guidance counsellors will have information on whether a student could assist with yard work, grass cutting, dog walking or snow removal on a voluntary basis.

Community centres

Community centres are the caregiver’s best friend. There may be programs such as post-stroke aqua-rehab and zumba gold (for older people). There may be an autism employment support and education program that trains (and pays) young adults with developmental disabilities to clean lunch tables and water plants.

If your personal financial resources are limited, ask if they offer subsidies for membership (the YMCA offers this type of help).

Places of worship

Your local church or synagogue could be a source of support or even daytime respite. Churches are natural places of compassion and belonging. Ask your priest or rabbi whether there’s an opportunity for you to worship while a volunteer cares for your loved one. Ask if there are home visits available, if that’s what you need.

Many places of worship have committees devoted to the needs of caregivers and elderly or disabled community members. Call and ask how the worship community might help your family.

Shopping malls

Shopping malls might not seem like the most likely place to look for support, but many offer programs for seniors such as mall walking clubs and seniors centres.

It’s worth speaking with someone at the mall executive office, too, about special events and discounts for seniors or for people with disabilities.

Municipal services

People working in your local municipal services have a responsibility to know and support their most vulnerable constituents.

If you support someone with mobility or behavioural challenges, your local fire and police stations will put your family on a special alert registry.

Google your city government to see what public services are operated in your area – these could include local art galleries (often with specialized learning programs), swimming pools, parks and even day respite for people with disabilities or dementia. For example, the city of Winnipeg hosts Caregiving with Confidence, a service that matches families with trained volunteers to offer telephone support, help with transportation and respite services.

Health-care facilities

Hospital and out-patient services might offer disease or disability-specific patient and family workshops or other support programs. Call the hospital social work office and ask to be put on a mailing list for all their support programs.

If you have specialized healthcare needs for your loved one (such as foot care, for example), enquire whether your local public health authority offers home visits. Pharmacies, especially those that include a division for rehab medical needs, offer a wide range of supports for medications and equipment.

Your community has assets that can help ease your caregiving path. The first step is to identify yourself as a caregiver. Research, pick up the phone and never be afraid to ask what’s available in your neighbourhood – there may be more caregiver support than you imagined.

A message from our Editor

An aging Canadian population and smaller families, combined with reduced health and social care budgets, mean the challenges of providing care to seniors will only worsen. Legions of families are buckling under the emotional, physical and fiscal burdens of caregiving. These pressures will be exacerbated by growing numbers of people living with demanding health challenges such as dementia, with fewer and fewer people to take care of them. The natural web of caring that so many of us take for granted is at risk of unravelling. Troy Media’s Family Ties examines the issues facing caregivers and the healthcare system in general and seeks solutions. If you have a story to tell, contact us at [email protected]

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