As essential partners in care, family caregivers support feeding, mobility, personal hygiene, cognitive stimulation, communication, meaningful connection, relational continuity, and assistance in decision-making. 1,2,13,14,15,16,17 Prior to the pandemic, research indicates that on average, 37.4 hours of informal care was provided in LTC per resident each month by informal caregivers, most often described as family. 3 Visitor restrictions inclusive of family caregivers reduced available resources for resident care, intensifying staff shortages.1,2,3,5,13 Designation of essential caregivers, distinct from general visitors, in policy and legislation was in part recognition of these roles and contribution to resident care.1,2,13
Prior to the pandemic, the role family caregivers in providing care for other residents was described as evolving over time as family members and friends become familiar with the needs of other residents. Roles described by family members in their care of other residents include providing companionship, assisting with meals, bring additional food or supplies when brought for their own family member, and assisting with leisure activities. 17
LTC volunteers roles during the pandemic reduced their activities to maintaining (limited) activities for residents, assisting residents with use of technology to communicate with family/physicians, and providing emotional support.4
A commentary article describes an example of family caregivers who were hired on short (90 day) contracts to care for residents during acute staffing shortages (Kensington Health 2021).5 Personal communication intended as an environmental scan (AB and ON) spoke to the variability of staffing needs and the individualized response by LTC homes to address these staffing shortages. If family caregivers were to be invited to provide additional resources in the context of staff shortages, this decision was made by individual homes, in communication with residents and families and aligned with provincial visitation policy.
During the pandemic, a new paid role of comfort care aide was also created by Alberta Health Services The job involved providing comfort, support and assistance to residents, portering residents, mealtime assistance, ensuring PPE was always available, refilling equipment and care supplies as needed, cleaning and disinfecting high touch surfaces, supporting reception duties, supporting screening of staff and visitors, receiving deliveries and stocking supplies, and performing other duties as assigned.6
Myge, I; Ward, H; Tupper, S; Fox, L; Howell-Spooner, B. What are the roles or function of family caregivers in providing care to other residents in LTC? 2022 Jan 27, Document no.: LTC220101 RR. In: COVID-19 Rapid Evidence Reviews [Internet]. SK: SK COVID Evidence Support Team, c2022. 13 p. (CEST rapid review report).