Aging is part of life and eventually life gets more challenging as we grow older. Aging not only affects the individual but the care giving family as well. Due to the rise in technology, we are seeing people live longer and at the same time experiencing a higher prevalence of chronic illness.
Statistics Canada states that 8 million Canadians aged 15 and above have provided care for a family member or friend with a chronic health illness linked with aging (Statistics Canada, 2015). This connection releases hormones that improve mood, diminish stress, supports physical and emotional wellbeing for the aging (Smith et al., 2021). This early care giving relationship allows those cared for to feel part of the family and can be the least invasive situation for the care giving family allowing both to continue to thrive.
At some point in time the individuals will need more assistance beyond the family’s capabilities and then the topic of burden of care may arise. This describes the physical, emotional, social and financial issues caregivers cope with everyday (O’Neill & Ross., 1991). Prolonged care giving periods can create consequences for the caregivers such as anxiety and depression which can lead to being more prone to illness due to a weakened immune system, obesity and other chronic illnesses (Womenshealth, 2015). Ask yourself what’s best for them? After all that’s the goal, right?
This brings us to another stage in our lives, palliative. Palliative care improves wellbeing and aides in resilience of seriously ill patients as well as their families. This type of care brings in professionals from multiple disciplines such as physicians, personal support workers and chaplains for example (Shmerling, 2019). This type of care is personalized to the individual’s needs. This area improves quality of life in patients and their families, physical distress, discomfort and can help them live longer.
Another area of palliative care is how to approach nutrition. The nutritional goal for palliative individuals is different than someone in the general population. These individuals experience higher amounts of fatigue and a sporadic appetite. They are battling a chronic illness which greatly diminishes their energy stores. Food options that are high in protein and calories will benefit the palliative care individual. Depending on the severity of the disease they could require the same amount of protein an endurance athlete consumes or more. Allow the individual to pick their favorite foods, desserts, or comfort foods, anything to get them to eat. In saying that, it’s important to still eat a variety of food to avoid deficiencies which could affect nerves and muscle and cause future complications (Government of South Australia, 2012).
The goal is to ensure their last few weeks, months or even years are filled with happiness and social support. You may not feel like a superhero but that’s exactly how your loved one views you. Remember, take care of them and yourself.
Government of South Australia. (2012). Diet and Nutrition in Palliative Care. Adelaide Hills Community Health Service. Retrieved from https://www.caresearch.com.au/Portals/20/Documents/Diet-And-Nutrition-Palliative-Care_AdlHillsCommHlthServ.pdf.
O'Neill, G., & Ross, M. M. (1991). Burden of care: an important concept for nurses. Health care for women international, 12(1), 111–121. https://doi.org/10.1080/07399339109515931
Shmerling, R. (2019, November 12). What is palliative care, and who can benefit from it? Harvard Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-palliative-care-and-who-can-benefit-from-it-2019111118186.
Smith, M., Segal, J., & Robinson, L. (2021, July 20). Family caregiving. HelpGuide.org. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/parenting-family/family-caregiving.htm#.
Statistics Canada. (2015, November 27). Family caregiving: What are the consequences? Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11858-eng.htm.
Womens Health. (2015). Caregiver stress . Office on Women's Health. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/caregiver-stress.
The Ontario Home Economics Association, a self-regulating body of professional Home Economists, promotes high professional standards among its members so that they may assist families and individuals to achieve and maintain a desirable quality of life.