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Caregivers need help – Age Concern

System required: Age Concern executive director Claudette Fleming believes caregivers need more support (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda needs a structured system to prevent caregivers from becoming overwhelmed by their responsibilities, seniors advocacy group Age Concern has claimed.

The charity hosted a seminar at its Paget headquarters centred on difficult caregiving decisions and how best to look after a loved one who has a mental or physical condition.

Sharing their thoughts were consultant geriatrician David Harries, Atlantic Caregiving nurse Judy Canalley, retired Pals nurse JoAnn Armstrong and retired community health nurse Anita Furbert.

Ms Furbert revealed in her presentation several telltale signs that a loved one may have entered the early stages of cognitive decline.

This could include poor management of household finances and chores, bad hygiene and forgetfulness. Claudette Fleming, executive director of Age Concern, said that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia are on the increase in Bermuda as people live longer.

“It’s important to understand the difference between everyday and abnormal forgetfulness, even with the ageing process,” she added.

Ms Fleming praised services such as Atlantic Caregiving and Dr Harries’s private practice, which offer assessments of an individual’s ailment to ascertain their levels of capability and dependency.

She added: “But we don’t have a coordinated system on the island. In fact, we have a long way to go in building one, so a lot is left on the caregiver to figure out their next move after the assessment.

“The process is a lot harder than it probably should be.”

Ms Fleming praised caregivers for their selflessness, but warned them not to take on more responsibility than they can handle.

“Caregivers need support, without a doubt,” she said. “They save the Government a lot of money, and can sometimes offer much better care than professionals because they have a vested interest.

“But being a caregiver can also be incredibly burdensome as well as rewarding. There are studies which show that caregivers can actually pass on before the ones they’re caring for.

“You have to balance what you’re physically and mentally capable of doing yourself before you take it on. That can be difficult.”

Although witnessing the mental decline of a loved one is inevitably stressful, Ms Fleming underlined the importance of pre-emptive planning to reduce unnecessary complications.

“We strongly encourage people to put proper wills in place, establish the power of attorney and have the essential family conversations,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the health ministry said: “The ministry is conscious of the invaluable contribution of caregivers in the care of seniors, persons with disabilities and other dependent individuals.

“For this reason, the Ministry’s Ageing and Disability Services now register private care providers so that some of the support services can be paid for.

“There have also been some excellent training events hosted by our community partners.

“We encourage continued collaboration of all sectors in the community to assist with the burden borne by caregivers, and provide emotional and material supports where possible.”