Caregiver Education and Support

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Caregivers are individuals who provide support and assistance to people who need care. The range of duties (or needs) a caregiver addresses for an individual can vary greatly and range from intimate personal care to tasks such as grocery shopping, bill paying, and taking the individual to doctor's appointments. Many caregivers are unpaid family members who care for parents or siblings. Sixty percent of caregivers also work outside of their caregiving responsibilities (Mayo Clinic, 2017). Often caregivers juggle raising young families and handling personal and work responsibilities in addition to the time that is spent caregiving. Of the 34 million caregivers who care for elderly family members, approximately 15% have the challenge of providing care long distance (American Geriatrics Society [AGS], 2016b). These caregivers have the additional expense of time away from work and family, and in many cases cost of travel, along with the demands of coordinating and communicating long distance with members of the care team.
Home healthcare clinicians have the unique opportunity to provide support and education to both unpaid family caregivers and paid caregivers during home visits. Often home healthcare patients live in their own homes or the home of a relative because of the care and supervision needed from the caregiver. This opportunity for maximum independence and aging in place is considered a quality of life issue for many patients.
Home healthcare clinicians can support the patient and caregiver by providing the caregiver with education on caregiving, and assist with identifying community resources for both caregiver support and patient needs. Clinicians who are astute at assessing the needs and limitations of a caregiver can offer both support and guidance for caregiver self-care and well-being and assist caregivers in their pursuit to optimize their caregiving skills. Clinicians can and should foster an environment where both the patient and caregiver feel and act as valuable members of the healthcare team.
Educating the caregiver on disease prognosis as well as anticipated progression often relieves the anxiety of not knowing or understanding what the future holds for the patient. The Aging in Health Foundation defines strategies for helping the caregiver provide the best care possible to their family member or patient. These strategies include efforts to build the patient's confidence, encouraging the patient to take small steps, and providing repeated encouragement. Caregivers should help patients remember their success and good days, and offer compassion and empathy by listening and being emotionally available and present during difficult times and treatments. Caregivers need to avoid useless gestures or offers, such as “let me know if you need anything” or “just call me if you need help” instead they should jump in and tackle the task at hand or provide a specific date/time they will be there to help. Caregivers can offer genuine words of encouragement and share experiences that will help the patient feel that they are not alone. Effective caregivers check in often with their family member or patient, and become familiar with the patient's illness and struggles. Finally, caregivers should know how to take care of themselves first, and by doing so they insure that they are available and ready to provide the best of care to their family member or patient (AGS, 2016c).
Home care clinicians must be able to recognize signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout, as it is such a stressful role.
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