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Study: Consequences of long-distance caregiving

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As the population of seniors increases and families live further apart, many Canadians face the challenges of caring for an aging parent from a distance.

In 2007, about 1.65 million people aged 45 and over provided assistance or care to a parent or a mother- or father-in-law who suffered from a long-term health problem or physical limitation. Roughly 360,000 of these individuals, or 22%, provided help to a parent, even though the individual receiving care lived at least an hour away by car.

Using data from the 2007 General Social Survey, this study found that long-distance caregiving can affect the caregiver's finances and work life.

Caregivers living further from the assisted parent were more likely to have extra expenses. When they did, they spent larger amounts. They were also more likely to miss full days of work. The responsibility of providing this long-distance care resulted in more work-related consequences for women than men.

Distance appears to be one of the most influential factors related to the risk of experiencing financial consequences.

About 62% of caregivers who lived more than half a day's journey from the parent receiving care incurred extra expenses as a result of the assistance they provided. This was twice the proportion among those living in the same neighbourhood as the parent receiving care (30%).

Even after other socioeconomic factors and the number of caregiving hours were taken into account, the odds of having extra expenses were three times higher for caregivers living more than half a day's journey away than for those in the same neighbourhood.

Similarly, 40% of caregivers who lived more than half a day away reported missing full days of work to provide the parent with care. This compares with 28% of those living in the same neighbourhood.

Women were more likely than men to take time off work. Among people living more than an hour's journey from the care recipient, 46% of women missed full days of work to provide care, compared with 27% of men. The proportion of women who were absent from work to give care to a parent was also higher among caregivers who lived less than an hour away.

The family profile of these caregivers was different from that of caregivers who lived closer to their parent. Those who lived farther away had, on average, fewer brothers and sisters, reflecting perhaps that with large families there are often siblings within closer proximity to their parents who can help. They were also more likely to live in the largest metropolitan areas and have higher incomes.

Note: The analysis in the article "Caring for a parent who lives far away: the consequences" is based on data from the General Social Survey conducted by Statistics Canada in 2007 on family, social support and retirement. The survey covered about 23,000 Canadians aged 45 and over, and living in private residences in the 10 provinces. This article provides a statistical profile of caregivers who live far from their parent and compares them with caregivers who live close by. It also examines the financial, social and work schedule impacts associated with living relatively far from the care recipient.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey numbers, including related surveys, 3901 and 4502.

The article "Caring for a parent who lives far away: the consequences" is now available in the January 2010 online issue of Canadian Social Trends, no. 89 (11-008-X, free), available from the Key resource module of our website under Publications.

Also in this issue of Canadian Social Trends is a second article entitled "Retail and customer service in French" that examines the prevalence of French-language knowledge among sales and service workers (salespersons, food servers and cashiers). Information is also provided regarding their use of French at work. There is a special focus on the metropolitan areas of Ottawa–Gatineau, Moncton, Greater Sudbury and Montréal.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (613-951-5979;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.