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Difficult but 'vital' work of local caregivers lauded at Orillia event

'I made a commitment to my wife 40 years ago that I would be there for her. I'm going to be,' vows Orillia man at National Caregivers Day event at Opera House

The Couchiching Ontario Health Team (COHT) marked National Caregivers Day at the Orillia Opera House today. 

The second annual caregiver appreciation day event honoured and celebrated those in the community looking after somebody in need. Guest speakers and local doctors also spoke at the event to provide caregivers with tips and tools to better serve their loved ones.

"A caregiver is somebody who provides emotional, physical, financial, psychological support in an unpaid capacity," explained Andrea Rovazzi, a patient family advisory council co-chair for the COHT. "They can be family, friends, neighbours, or anyone."

Doug Winterburn, 69, is a caregiver for his wife, 73, who has a cognitive impairment. He helps her dress, he cooks, cleans, shops, and takes care of the bills for her.

"I worry about her 24 hours a day," he explained. "I do everything I can for her, but she struggles."

Winterburn attended Tuesday's event to gain some clarity on how to better care for his wife and to meet other caregivers to learn about their situations.

"I don't think my wife is ready to go into a nursing home," he said. "It's not something you want after 40 years of marriage."

Winterburn says he wouldn't wish being a caregiver on his worst enemy.

"It's horrible," he said. "You are going 24 hours a day; you get no sleep."

Despite the challenges of being a caregiver, Winterburn says he's determined to keep going.

"I made a commitment to my wife 40 years ago that I would be there for her," he said. "I'm going to be."

Brenda Vollick, 67, is a caregiver for her spouse, 84, who has a traumatic brain injury. She buys groceries, cooks meals, and takes care of all household chores.

"I'm responsible for keeping him safe and upright," she explained, noting he has suffered 36 falls in the last 18 months. "Some days it's challenging and almost overwhelming."

Vollick says the National Caregivers Day event helps her strategize how to care for herself and her spouse.  

"It's nice to learn about the experiences that others are having," she said. "It's good to learn how they cope with things."

Vollick says Tuesday’s event helps her shake off any feelings of isolation.  

"It's nice to know other people are in the same boat," she said. "It helps to know that you can reach out to people for help."  

Barbra Shakell-Barkey, a patient family advisory council co-chair for the COHT, says caregivers are "vital" to Ontario. According to research done by the University of Alberta, there are approximately four million caregivers in the province providing an economic value of around $42.8 billion, she explained. 

"Caregivers reduce costs to the health-care system," Shakell-Barkey said. "They also provide better outcomes for those they serve."

Becoming a caregiver has become more challenging over the last five years. Shakell-Barkey says almost half of the caregivers in the province are feeling depressed and enduring financial hardship.

"It's becoming more difficult because things are more expensive and the availability of resources is just not there," she said.  

Without caregivers, Shakell-Barkey says the health system would "absolutely collapse tomorrow."

"That's why days like this are important," Rovazzi said. "It builds support for those caregivers and really focuses on making them feel well, supported, and safe so they can continue to support their care recipients."


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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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