The much awaited results of The Canada Family Life Project were recently published; a poll undertaken by Nanos Research which surveyed Canadians about children, child care, marriage and caring for their elders.  Part of its aim was to add to the very limited body of research providing information about marriage and family aspirations in Canada.  Its findings are largely applicable to the rest of the world as well.

This article is the first of three articles discussing The Canada Family Life Project and concentrates on its findings regarding elderly care, something that is quickly becoming a critical public-policy issue in countries around the world.  I am a little late in bringing these results to you because my grandmother died last week.  Watching my own family now make decisions about my granddad’s care (he has Parkinson’s disease and my grandmother previously visited him every day in a care facility he recently moved into close to their home) made reading the findings seem more immediate.

In ten short years the number of seniors individual Canadians expect to personally care for will double, and the report finds that Canadians are very concerned about how they will care for aging parents. Three out of four Canadians say caring for their aging parents is very important, but only one in five Canadians think society is doing a good job to help with this.

The number of people in Canada over sixty-five will increase from 15 percent of the Canadian population to 24 percent by 2038.  Currently 45 percent of Canadians provide some care for an elderly person, with almost one in ten Canadians providing care for both parents.  Caregivers already report some stress in caring for the elderly, a stress that will likely shortly double. 

The biggest reported challenge by far was time, work scheduling and availability.  Employed caregivers often experience tension between work roles and family roles.  This tension may be even greater in the future as a result of more women working full-time as dual earners with their partners than has historically been the case.  Following on from this, financial stress may be greater when a full-time earner is required to provide significant care to a family member. Both employers and families will increasingly need to consider how to address work/life balance in this regard. 

Other significant challenges to family care identified in the study by caregivers were: money; emotional, physical and mental exhaustion; and personal health.  Geographical distance also increases the stress on natural caregivers. 

So what are the solutions?  Almost 20 percent of respondents indicated that access to care, better care, or community care would be a realistic and helpful solution to the increasing need for elderly care.  Another 18 percent suggested that financial assistance or subsidisation would offset senior care challenges.  Just under 15 percent expressed support for home care.  Others thought that senior care was a personal responsibility to be managed by the family; just over one in ten Canadians prefer the government to take a hands-off approach to elder care.

The results show that there is a need for robust discussion and resulting action on this issue, not just in Canada but in the many countries facing these issues around the world.  

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...