One in four Canadian millennials is a caregiver for an older adult. Here is one young man’s story of caring for his dad
Everything in Craig Conoley’s world fell apart in March 2020.
“Not only did COVID-19 hit, but my mother was declining rapidly with glioblastoma – brain cancer – and at the same time my father, Rodney, was diagnosed with late-stage liver disease and hospitalized. And since my sister lives in Nova Scotia, caregiver responsibilities landed in my lap,” says the 37-year-old. His mother, Bertha, was hospitalized and because of the pandemic, he couldn’t visit. He also couldn’t initially visit his father. Craig gave up his job in filmmaking and video production so he could care for his father.
At the end of March, Bertha passed away, and by then, Rodney was told he needed a liver transplant. “My memory was affected by my illness,” says Rodney, “and my symptoms got worse. I finally realized that I’d had these symptoms for years.” In June, Rodney received a portion of a liver. The donor was Craig, who thankfully recovered quickly and became his father’s caregiver once again. “Here’s the thing,” says Craig, “you don’t even realize that you are falling into that role. It just happens because you do what you have to do.” And when Craig started looking around and researching caregiving, he realized there were far more millennials providing care than he had anticipated.
According to a Statistics Canada report, in 2018, approximately one in four Canadians aged 15 and older (or 7.8 million people) provided care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, a physical or mental disability, or problems related to aging. Almost half of all caregivers (47 percent) reported caring primarily for their parents or parents-in-law in 2018. Caring for parents was the most common form of caregiving reported in Canada, and was particularly common among caregivers aged 45 to 64 (61 percent). Moreover, by 2031, Statistics Canada predicts nearly one in four Canadians will be over 65, and this age group is growing. According to The Canadian Health Institute of Canada, so is the number of people living with dementia.
Spurred by the numbers, Craig created Millennialcare.ca, becoming its chief operating officer, with Rodney becoming its chief executive officer.
“I want millennial caregivers to share their stories,” says Craig, “and to understand that they aren’t alone.” He also wants to promote advocacy, education and create a generational movement that demands better healthcare for all Canadians. The site provides a common ground to put a face on who these young caregivers are, and their stories. “Did you know that one in three millennial caregivers suffers from anxiety and stress?” says Craig. Much of the anxiety comes from financial challenges. “I had to give up my business so I could help my father. So, financial concerns were a real issue. Thankfully, I got some excellent advice from Sarah Bowie (another millennial) at Bowie Financial,” says Craig. Bowie gave him tips like forming a tax strategy, applying for disability tax credits, find out what government aid exits for caregivers and looking into newly created caregiver benefits. Craig plans to share the financial advice and tips on millennialcare.ca.
As Craig became more involved in being a caregiver for his father, he realized that there was little support for caregivers. “You really start to see the limits in care and how information is disseminated is concerning. There is a real lack of knowledge around available resources to help caregivers with our particular needs and realities,” says Craig. “What’s really needed is a change of policies around caregiving.”
According to a 2012 Statistic Canada survey, 14- to 24-year-old millennial caregivers are taking care of grandparents, and often more than one. Older millennials are usually providing services for a parent – including transportation and housework. “It’s time to put a face on who these people are,” says Craig. “Because for the most part, we are out there busting it. And the sad reality is that for many of the younger caregivers, their education is being adversely affected. That’s not right.”
This past month, Rodney sold his home and along with Craig, moved to be with his daughter in River John, Nova Scotia. “I’m looking forward to holding my grandson after we come out of isolation,” says Rodney. “It will help compensate a little bit for the fact that I couldn’t be there for my wife. I also plan to stay involved as CEO with Millennialcare.ca. I know Craig learned a lot by being a caregiver and he wants to share what he learned. I couldn’t have managed without him.”
Craig agrees that being a caregiver has taught him a lot. He says he thought he understood about love and caring. “When I started this caregiver journey, I had no idea what I was in for. I don’t think anyone who is suddenly thrust into the role has any idea,” says Craig. “That’s why I think Millennialcare.ca is so important. I want to share my lessons to help someone else who suddenly becomes a caregiver. Or for someone who is already a caregiver. And I want others to share their journey so that we can all learn and hopefully be a voice for change.”
– Sheryl Bennett-Wilson is VP of C.A.R.P. Ottawa
If you’ve been named executor
If you’ve been named the executor of your parents’ estate, Sarah Bowie, president of Bowie Financial Inc., says – “have that talk because knowledge is power.” Although being an executor can be overwhelming, Bowie says that there is no way to be an expert. “Thankfully, for most people, being an executor is a once, or twice in a lifetime thing,” says Bowie. “But when it comes to the government, they expect that you are an expert, and they’ll hold you responsible if things go sideways.”
If you know you’ve been named as the executor in your parents’ will, get involved and ask questions before they pass away. “First off, you should have a power of attorney in place, as well as the will,” she says. “And make sure you gather all your information before you get to the lawyer’s office.” You should know who the lawyer is that prepared the will, whether they have an accountant and where all the necessary documents are located – including bank statements, life insurance and RSP’s. “Understand that this is not done in a day and it’s going to take time before any assets are distributed,” says Bowie. “And realize too, that taxes can come as a big surprise.” Bowie says certified executor advisors exist to help.
- Sarah Bowie is president of Bowie Financial Inc. Learn more at com.
About Millennial Care
Visit www.millennialcare.ca for support information. If you are a caregiver between 23 and 38, enter the contest to have your story shared with the whole country.
C.A.R.P. promotes and protects the interests, rights, and quality of life of Canadians as we age.
Anyone can join.