After 12 years of caring for her husband with Parkinson’s disease, on top of her own health issues, Helia was exhausted and overwhelmed. The emotional weight of caring for her husband’s every need had been taking a toll for a long time.

As her husband’s condition got to the point of hospitalization, Helia arranged for him to go into a long-term care home for further medical support. However, her caregiving tasks didn’t disappear. Caregivers are still on duty when the person they care for moves into long-term care homes—they’re waiting for phone calls, advocating for their loved one’s needs, processing their emotions, and so much more.

Helia is one of the more than 3.3 million Ontario residents who provide care to seniors and adults with disabilities who need support with their daily living.

The job of an informal caregiver is mentally, emotionally, and physically strenuous. Even before the pandemic, caregivers were already feeling alone and isolated— and COVID-19 has only intensified these struggles. 

Seniors who provide care to family members are particularly vulnerable to burnout, isolation, and poor health outcomes, as they often have health challenges of their own to manage at the same time.

For Helia, the program she joined is fueled by United Way East Ontario to help her decompress from the demands of caring for her husband. It’s a place where caregivers can take a break from their daily routine and find reassurance and comfort while supporting their loved ones.  

The program taught Helia that it’s okay to put yourself first and to say no sometimes. It helped her to understand that she’s not alone with all the anger, grief, guilt, and frustration she feels. When she gets together with other caregivers, Helia says, “We laugh a little, vent a little, cry a little. It’s very helpful!”

Working on the ground with social services across Prescott-Russell, I have seen first-hand how programs that support caregivers are critical to the wellbeing of people like Helia. But equally as important, these programs provide critical relief for our already strained healthcare system by keeping overworked caregivers and their family members out of hospital.

United Way knows that powering these programs is paramount to keeping seniors and their caregivers healthy, safe, and connected. We work with partners across Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark County, and Renfrew County to find lasting solutions to complex, chronic, local issues. That is our promise 365 days a year—during crises and normal times.

Helia’s story is unique, and yet she is only one caregiver out of the millions facing challenges in supporting their loved ones. While we untangle and tackle the systemic issues facing caregivers, programs like the one Helia attends provide respite, connection, education, and peer support to lessen the isolation caregivers experience every day. 

Our neighbours across Prescott-Russell could use some extra help this holiday season. Life is getting more expensive—forcing people to stretch their budgets just to meet basic household needs. For those who are struggling, the holidays can be a time of added stress and anxiety.

With your support, we can help caregivers like Helia stay connected. We can give kids the tools they need to succeed in school and in life. We can help people struggling with their mental health connect with accessible counselling and peer support.

This holiday season, give the gift of possibility. If you can, please donate today at unitedwayeo.ca/holiday to support caregivers like Helia, and the thousands of other people across East Ontario who rely on United Way each year.

This article was written by Audray Lizotte, Regional Director, Prescott-Russell, United Way East Ontario