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A caregiver is someone, often a family member, who regularly looks after someone who is sick, disabled or elderly. While caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, it also involves many stressors. Caregivers often put their loved one first, forgetting to take care of themselves, risking burnout.

The Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) developed a program called “Neighbours Helping Neighbours” (NHN) as a way to encourage individuals to volunteer to give primary caregivers a break at no cost to the care recipient. VON recognized that with the cutbacks to funding and services at all levels of government, the responsibility for caregiving would be on family members, friends, and neighbours. It was obvious that primary caregivers often suffer from burnout and need a temporary break.

VON created a one-day workshop to provide individuals with enough basic information so that they would feel comfortable volunteering to offer respite care in their community. The workshop covers topics such as the role of family in caregiving, boundaries and expectations of the respite and primary caregivers, elder abuse, and how to be a “good neighbour”.

When Darlene first heard about the program, she was helping her mother care for her father who has Alzheimer’s and dementia. Her mother is the primary caregiver and Darlene helps as much as she can in her role as secondary caregiver. The Neighbours Helping Neighbours program provided her with the information she was looking for about the caregiver’s role, how to provide respite to a primary caregiver and ideas for activities she could do with her father. In fact, it enabled her to identify the symptoms of burnout in her mother and provided her the resources to seek additional professional respite care for her father in order for her mother to get the breaks she needed. Darlene valued her new knowledge so much that she later became a facilitator through a “train the trainer” workshop.

VON developed the one-day “train the trainer” session in order to prepare people as facilitators who would deliver the NHN workshops in their communities. In 2014 several members of the National Association of Federal Retirees (NAFR) participated in the training.

When the Ottawa branch of VON ceased operations in 2016, the Ottawa Branch of the National Association of Federal Retirees elected to continue delivering the workshops, not just to its members, but also to any group of individuals or organization that requested them. The workshops are offered in both English and French. The facilitators volunteer their time to deliver the workshops at no cost to the host organization.

Hélène Valin has been a facilitator for Neighbours Helping Neighbours since 2015. As the primary caregiver for her 97-year-old mother, she has first-hand knowledge and understanding of the stress involved and knows just how important it is to receive respite as a caregiver: “As a caregiver, you know that you need respite to be able to function better. But [it’s challenging] having people come in and stay with your family member, you want someone that knows what respite is.” When a request for more facilitators was made, she jumped on the opportunity to provide informational workshops to people. Hélène says the workshop “provides participants with an idea of the various components required to provide respite and it gives them a sense of what is respite and what it is not. So it takes away the fear of providing respite for neighbours, knowing exactly what they should be doing and what they shouldn’t.”

Shelagh Tuddenham, coordinator of Neighbours Helping Neighbours in Ottawa, thinks everyone would benefit from the program “whether it be someone who wants to be a respite caregiver, whether it’s a primary caregiver who is looking for encouragement to seek out help, or a family member who wants information about the caregiving role.”

At the end of the day, this workshop provides information and resources about what you can do to help your neighbour.

For more information about the “Neighbours Helping Neighbours” program, please contact the Ottawa Branch of the National Association of Federal Retirees at 613-737-2199.