Caregivers also need to take care of their own health needs

Nurses are an important part of the care team for patients with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Typically a friend or relative of the patient, they provide an estimated $470 billion in cost savings to the national healthcare system in 2013 by organizing and administering medications, providing wound care, providing transportation, and fulfilling all other activities of daily living life. The average caregiver spends 24 hours a week caring for their loved one.

The most common conditions affecting patients requiring caregiver support include cancer, dementia, heart failure and stroke (stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability). As physicians, we want to involve caregivers in the medical care of the patient. The caregiver will be the one doing all the legwork at home, and they often know best about their needs.

Nursing can be a full-time occupation for many people, but despite the positive impact they have on the lives of these patients, about a third of all nurses report a high nursing burden. There are real, measurable effects on caregivers, including absenteeism, financial strain, and higher rates of depression compared to the general population. The burden on nursing staff will continue to increase in the coming years due to the increasing age of our population. One in five adults will be aged 65 or older by 2030, and many of them will need the support of a caregiver.

The good news is that there are new developments in support for caregivers in our country. Studies have shown that interventions such as education and resilience training can reduce caregiver symptoms of depression, improve quality of life, and reduce overall distress. The National Family Caregiver Support Program is a government program designed to support caregivers, and there are many websites and smartphone apps that allow multiple family members to coordinate care (meals, appointments, etc.). In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many medical practices have also expanded their telemedicine capabilities, which can help doctors reach their patients in difficult circumstances. Several cities also have caregiver support groups, and we always encourage caregivers to look after their own health needs. Caregivers can also contact their GP for support.

Resources for Caregivers

• https://www.aarp.org/caregiving – local resources

• https://familydoctor.org/caregiver-stress – Caregiver self-care

• https://caregiveraction.org – specific tips on scenarios

• https://www.caregiver.org – disease-specific data sheet

• https://states.aarp.org/aarp-caregiving-app – Coordination app for caregivers

• https://evernote.com – Organization app

• https://gogogranparent.com – ride-sharing app without a smartphone

• https://medisafe.com – medication management

dr Downham is a resident physician who treats patients of all ages and provides obstetric services at the Lone Star Family Health Center, a nonprofit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center that operates facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland and Huntsville. It serves as the home of one fully integrated family medicine residency program to increase the number of primary care physicians for Texas and our community.

About Ellen Lewandowski

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