A young woman, hair pulled back, embraces from behind an older grey-haired smiling woman in front of a tree on a sunny day.
From the cover of the FFANE’s newly launched French language caregivers guide.

At least one in three Nova Scotians are unpaid caregivers, and a new guide launched this week will help those who provide that care in French.

“When you’re looking for support, when you’re looking for answers in stressful times, it’s so much better to have it when you’re not struggling to understand the language on top of navigating government systems,” Élizabeth Vickers-Drennan, project coordinator for the Fédération des femmes acadiennes de la Nouvelle-Écosse (FFANE) said in an interview on Thursday.

The resource, titled ‘Guide de la personne aidante’ (Caregiver’s Handbook), was launched on Monday by the FFANE, a non-profit organization that promotes the personal and social development of Acadian, Francophone, and French-speaking women in Nova Scotia.

Vickers-Drennan said while the handbook has existed “in a few different iterations,” the last Francophone edition dates back to 2007.

“As you can imagine, there’s so much that changes over the years,” she said.

“Be it something as simple as the tax credits that are offered by the government, all the contact information, maybe there’s new procedures and all these other things that are governmental services. We figured it was really time to have an updated French resource.”

Available online, it’s also offered in a free hard copy format from the FFANE and contains resources, tools, numerous themes, and fillable pages and exercises.

“We wanted to make sure that the guide was going to be something that was relevant but also really useful. So instead of just being a resource guide, it actually has a lot of hands-on components in it,” Vickers-Drennan said.

“So, tools that can help caregivers get organized, things like relaxation activities to take a couple of minutes for oneself.”

One thing caregivers specifically asked them to include were pages to jot down notes.

“Caregivers said ‘You know what? I need something that I can carry with me that’s not heavy, that’s handy, where I can put all my thoughts in one spot,’” Vickers-Drennan said.

‘Critical part of our health care system’

Based on the most recent available statistics, a University of Alberta team earlier this year found the estimated annual economic value of caregivers in Canada was $97.1 billion. Caregivers also provided an estimated 5.7 billion hours of unpaid care.

It would take 2.8 million full-time workers to replace those unpaid hours.

In Nova Scotia specifically, the number of unpaid hours of caregiving per year was pegged at 221 million, providing an estimated economic value of $3.8 billion.

Women are also known to disproportionately bear the brunt of unpaid caregiver duties, something Vickers-Drennan said further motivated their work on the project that was two years in the making.

“It (the guide) is kind of a double whammy for us, where we work with French-speaking women and we know that there’s a critical need for support there,” Vickers-Drennan said.

“A lot of people are at the end of their rope, and having something like this we’re hoping will help support what is really a critical part of our health care system.”

The FFANE received federal funding for the project, which was a partnership with Caregivers Nova Scotia and the Fédération des aînées de la francophonie manitobaine.

“We’ve been hearing a lot about mental health with caregivers and with care recipients and how folks have, especially in the pandemic, been seeing a decline in their own mental health,” Vickers-Drennan said.

“So any support that one can get, especially if it’s in something where you’re not translating in your head, is wonderful.”

Trying to reach people before a crisis

Caregivers Nova Scotia is featuring the new FFANE French-language caregivers guide on the French section of its website. The non-profit organization is also highlighting its own new French-language initiative alongside the launch.

Late this spring, Caregivers Nova Scotia began offering an evening support group for French caregivers on the third Wednesday of each month. Meetings are virtual and open to any French-speaking caregiver across the province.

“One thing we find is that many caregivers come to us when they’re in crisis. So they’re already in the midst of it and are stuck and are just really needing support now or answers now,” Caregivers Nova Scotia’s executive director Jenny Theriault said in an interview on Thursday.

“So we always strive to try and get there before that crisis happens so we can hopefully help in some way with the navigation process.”

The organization’s peer support groups bring people together to share stories and experiences, answer questions, and share resources.

“Having that support in their own first language goes so far creating safe spaces,” Theriault said. “Being able to share with others who have the same language as you is so meaningful and so valued, and I think that that’s really important.”

Three women stand against a wall smiling and holding copies of the newly launched French language caregivers guide.
Caregivers Nova Scotia executive director Jenny Theriault (left), FFANE project coordinator Élizabeth Vickers-Drennan and Caregivers Nova Scotia’s caregiver support coordinator JoAnne Connors with copies of the newly launched French language caregivers guide. Photo: Caregivers Nova Scotia

Number of unpaid caregivers ‘staggering’

Theriault’s hoping to reach any French-language caregivers interested in accessing peer support. Recognizing that not everyone has time to participate in such a group, she also wants people to simply be aware that help is available.

“Maybe they wish they could attend a support group, but that’s just not feasible with their schedules and everything they’re doing,” Theriault said.

“So we want to make it clear that even if they just need support, via telephone or email, or want to ask a quick question or are looking for resources, we also have that available as well.”

Caregivers Nova Scotia’s services are free and support is provided to all caregivers (non-disease specific) provincewide.

“I’m sure it’s changed, especially through COVID, but we do know that one in three Nova Scotians is in the caregiving role,” Theriault said.

“It could be even higher now in the last couple of years, but that alone (one in three) is staggering.”

Theriault said many people don’t even consider themselves caregivers because they’re simply doing what they have to for loved ones in the course of their own daily lives.

“When you become a caregiver, most often it’s just because something has happened. There might be a fall, there might be an illness,” she said.

“You’re not trained or you don’t have any education in it so you just kind of fall into this role. You don’t automatically know how to navigate the health care system or know what resources are available or or know where you can turn for help. We want people to know we’re here.”

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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