Toronto – A Baycrest researcher has demonstrated that older adult caregivers who participated in a short group mental health course experienced improvements in their mental health.
This research, done in partnership with Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario Division found that caregivers reported substantial improvements to their levels of anxiety, feelings of loneliness and depressive symptoms after completing a free caregiver support course.
“Older adult caregivers are at an increased risk of developing anxiety and depression, which if left untreated, doubles their risk of developing dementia later on,” says Dr. Nasreen Khatri, principal investigator on the study and clinician-associate at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute. “Mental health programs for older adults are a form of prevention against the development of cognitive problems and dementia later in life.”
In a survey of more than 500 caregivers who participated in a course called Living Life to the Full, an eight-week program offered by CMHA Ontario to help unpaid caregivers self-manage their stress and cope with challenges in their lives, researchers found:
- Depression symptoms, such as low mood, were reduced by almost half following completion of the course.
- Anxiety symptoms were reduced by more than 30 per cent following the program.
- Participants expressed improved mental well-being and reduced feelings of loneliness immediately following completion of the course.
The program, which supports caregivers aged 55+, was delivered in four languages (English, French, Mandarin and Cantonese) across 80 organizations in Toronto.
Caregivers need support too
“Unfortunately, caregivers are unlikely to seek treatment because they lack the time, resources or feel stigmatized,” says Dr. Khatri.
From the survey, her team found:
- Almost half of the caregivers (47 per cent) reported providing either daily, around-the-clock care or generalized care amounting to more than 61 hours per week.
- The top three common issues experienced by caregivers were:
- Difficulty coping with stress related to caregiver responsibilities
- Need for more social connectedness
- Limited connection services
- Respondents most commonly cared for loved ones who required support due to aging, Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, and mobility issues.
- Many of the caregivers (57 per cent) lived in the same households with the person who was being cared for.
As a caregiver, Elliette Portal struggles to also prioritize her own care.
“As caregivers, often all our focus and energy goes into the loved ones we care for, which makes it easy to forget about our own health,” says Portal, a graduate of the Living Life to the Full course. “But if you’re not at your best, you may not be the best caregiver you can be.”
The Living Life to the Full course helped Portal learn to identify her stress triggers and find a healthy way to deal with them, allowing her to take care of her mental health and manage the responsibilities of being a caregiver, she adds.
“People living with mild to moderate symptoms of depression and anxiety need messages of hope and an example of something that works,” said Hélène Roussel, project manager of CMHA Ontario’s Living Life To The Full program. “This program has moved people beyond learning concepts and information sharing to a point where they recognized their challenges and made positive behavioural changes as a result. The program has supported caregivers on their journey of self-discovery, self-mastery and self-care.”
This research was funded in part by the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program.
As next steps, the research team will continue to analyze data collected after the program’s completion to evaluate longer-term effects among caregivers.
Baycrest is a global leader in geriatric residential living, healthcare, research, innovation and education, with a special focus on brain health and aging. Baycrest is home to a robust research and innovation network, including one of the world’s top research institutes in cognitive neuroscience, the Rotman Research Institute; the scientific headquarters of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, Canada’s largest national dementia research initiative; and the Baycrest-powered Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation, a solution accelerator focused on driving innovation in the aging and brain health sector. Fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest provides excellent care for older adults combined with an extensive clinical training program for the next generation of healthcare professionals. Through these initiatives, Baycrest has remained at the forefront of the fight to defeat dementia as our organization works to create a world where every older adult enjoys a life of purpose, inspiration and fulfilment. Founded in 1918 as the Toronto Jewish Old Folks Home, Baycrest continues to embrace the long-standing tradition of all great Jewish healthcare institutions to improve the well-being of people in their local communities and around the globe. For more information please visit: www.baycrest.org
About Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute
Now in its 30th year, the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest is a premier international centre for the study of human brain function. Through generous support from private donors and funding agencies, the institute is helping to illuminate the causes of cognitive decline in seniors, identify promising approaches to treatment and lifestyle practices that will protect brain health longer in the lifespan.
About Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario
Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario is a not-for-profit, charitable organization funded by the provincial Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. We work to improve the lives of all Ontarians through leadership, collaboration and continual pursuit of excellence in community-based mental health and addictions services. Our vision is a society that embraces and invests in the mental health of all people. We are a trusted advisor to government, contributing to health systems development through policy formulation and recommendations that promote positive mental health. Our 30 local CMHA branches, together with community-based mental health and addictions service providers across the province, serve approximately 500,000 Ontarians each year.
For media inquiries:
T: 416-785-2500 ext. 6127
Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario
T: 416-977-5580, ext. 4175