B.C. Elderly Care on the Rise


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Image by: Brian Howell
Belinda Neumann's struggle to care for her sick mother involved stress, tears and a demotion.

While workplaces long ago adapted to employees’ child care needs, few are 
prepared for the coming tsunami of eldercare demands.

Belinda Neumann’s co-workers could only watch as she buckled under the pressure. At work she was often distracted, forgetful and confused. Her productivity was shot. She never knew when a phone call would demand she drop everything or (as it did more than once) reduce her to tears right there in her cubicle. Her mother was suffering with multiple sclerosis, and caring for her had become a daily worry for Neumann. If it wasn’t finding the time to drive from Vancouver to Abbotsford to help with a mundane task, it was the long, frustrating phone calls. After a few years of escalating eldercare demands, Neumann’s manager called her to a meeting and suggested she should perhaps step down from her position as a recruitment specialist. She was offered a demotion.

For Cora Amador, concern for her bedridden mother turned her from a model sales clerk with WH Smith to an impatient, sometimes rude and unreliable employee. She would regularly call in sick, sometimes as often as twice a week, and if she got a call at work about her mother’s health, she would have to leave. Her mother was constantly on her mind. Her colleagues and manager were sympathetic but ultimately the emotional strain drove Amador to quit.

Susan Dunn’s mother suffers from Parkinson’s and dementia. The dementia would routinely cause her to wander the neighbourhood in seasonally inappropriate clothing, spend hours trying to find the keys she’d hidden from imaginary thieves or just forget to eat – yet she refused to accept care outside of her home. The burden fell on Dunn, managing broker with DFH Real Estate in Victoria, to undo all the things the dementia did. She would close up shop to go locate her lost mother or find the mislaid keys or arrange for a meal service. Care became a juggling act, and it wasn’t until a medical emergency moved her mother out of the house and into a geriatric care facility that the pressure lightened a little. 

There are hundreds of similar stories, each one a little different, which is why eldercare in the workplace is such a complex issue. Dealing with a parent or partner who is no longer able to manage their own care brings on emotional, physical and psychological issues that certainly affect the individual employee but also the company and ultimately the bottom line.

The toll is about to get a lot bigger when you consider the fabric of today’s workforce. Canada’s densest demographic, the baby boomers, are working longer but also caring for parents who are enjoying an extended lifespan (now an average of 81.2 years for British Columbians). 

By the year 2032, approximately 25 per cent of B.C.’s population will be seniors, and as their care needs increase so will the demands on their children. According to a report published by Mount Allison University, 90 per cent of seniors are cared for by family or community care or a combination, but not by institutions. That puts the care of aging boomers squarely on the shoulders of generations X and Y, but the problem is that those generations were born during a birth-rate decline. So while the population of seniors needing care will mushroom in the coming decade, they have relatively few offspring to look after them.

It’s not just age that is increasing the demand for care; it’s also the escalating prevalence of the most common diseases affecting elder health: cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. The incidence of cancer is estimated to be growing by six to eight per cent per year. According to Health Canada, the number of Canadians needing cancer treatment will have doubled between 2001 and 2020. Earlier this year, the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada reported that in 2008 there were 103,700 new cases of dementia identified and that by 2038 the annual number will increase to 257,800. The society estimates that, at these rates, by 2038 more than 1.1 million Canadians will be suffering with dementia. As for diabetes, the numbers are shocking. In 2000 1.4 million Canadians suffered with diabetes; by 2016 that number will hit 2.4 million.


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