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Supporting caregivers

"Being a caregiver simply means ensuring the well-being and quality of life of a loved one who needs support", declares Francine Ducharme, holder of the Desjardins Research Chair in Nursing Care for Seniors and Their Families and a member of the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal. In Québec, nearly 1.2 million caregivers provide support and care for a person with a loss of autonomy or who requires specific and continuing care over an extended period of time. This number will increase with the aging of the population. Will caregivers have the tools they need to cope with the demands of their role? To take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves.

The impacts of this innovative project are considerable, as it affects the well-being and health of both caregivers and those they look after.

Caregivers have multiple tasks, including administering and coordinating health and hygiene care, household chores, preparing meals, finance management and providing emotional support. These obligations can become a source of stress and lead to various psychological and physical problems. Caregivers often suffer from chronic headaches, sleep disorders, anxiety, irritability, exhaustion, or even depression. To address the health issues relating to the role of caregiver, the researcher developed an online training program, MeSSAGES, which provides practical stress management tools for caregivers.

These tools include strategies for problem-solving, stress management and finding support from those around them. Adapted to each caregiver, the seven-week training program includes the supervision of a qualified health professional, usually a nurse, who acts as a tutor throughout the program, providing support and feedback to facilitate learning. The program also helps caregivers to manage their time effectively, so that they can continue their social and recreational activities. In addition, they can take part in online discussion forums, which provides comfort and breaks their isolation. The program's internet-based format means that caregivers can access it at home, at any time of the day.

The impacts of this innovative project are considerable, as it affects the well-being and health of both caregivers and those they look after. Through this process, caregivers become aware of the importance and benefits of their own quality of life. Caregivers in a better state of physical and mental health are better able to fulfil their role, and therefore have less need for health services, for themselves or for the elderly person in their care. This online program is currently available only in Québec, but the researcher hopes to make it available to a wider audience. The project has generated interest in several other countries including France, which shows that there is a real need for this type of service around the world.