"Caregiving is like on the job training but nobody has the manual": Canadian caregivers' perceptions of their roles within the healthcare system

BMC Geriatr. 2021 Jun 30;21(1):404. doi: 10.1186/s12877-021-02354-z.


Background: Stepping into the role of an unpaid caregiver to offer help is often considered a natural expectation of family members or friends. In Canada, such contributions are substantial in terms of healthcare provision but this comes at a considerable cost to the caregivers in both health and economic terms.

Methods: In this study, we conducted a secondary analysis of a collection of qualitative interviews with 39 caregivers of people with chronic physical illness to assess how they described their particular roles in caring for a loved one. We used a model of caregiving roles, originally proposed by Twigg in 1989, as a guide for our analysis, which specified three predominant roles for caregivers - as a resource, as a co-worker, and as a co-client.

Results: The caregivers in this collection spoke about their roles in ways that aligned well with these roles, but they also described tasks and activities that fit best with a fourth role of 'care-coordinator', which required that they assume an oversight role in coordinating care across institutions, care providers and often advocate for care in line with their expectations. For each of these types of roles, we have highlighted the limitations and challenges they described in their interviews.

Conclusions: We argue that a deeper understanding of the different roles that caregivers assume, as well as their challenges, can contribute to the design and implementation of policies and services that would support their contributions and choices as integral members of the care team. We provide some examples of system-level policies and programs from different jurisdictions developed in recognition of the need to sustain caregivers in their role and respond to such limitations.

Keywords: Canada; Caregiving; Carers; Chronic illness; Healthcare system; Qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Caregivers*
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Humans
  • Inservice Training
  • Perception