Report: Family Members Providing More Complex Medical Care to Loved Ones

According to a 2012 report published by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the United Hospital Fund, family members caring for a sick loved one or elderly family member are now providing more complex medical care than in the past. The report, titled “Home Alone: Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care,” was based upon an online survey of 1,677 family caregivers who provided unpaid care to a family member over the past twelve months. In almost all cases, family members performed tasks associate with traditional caregiving. For instance, family caregivers assisted with bathing, dressing, cooking, shopping and doing chores around the house.

wheelchair.jpgHowever, 50 percent of the family caregivers surveyed reported that they provide some type of medical and nursing care that is normally provided by a trained health care professional. For example, one-third of family caregivers who provide medical and nursing care reported that they provide wound care, such as tending to bedsores, changing postsurgical dressings and ostomy care. Of those family members who provided such critical wound care, 75 percent of them stated that they were uncomfortable performing such invasive procedures and were afraid of making a mistake while providing such care.

In addition, the report revealed that 75 percent of family caregivers administer and manage medications for a loved one. In some cases, caregivers administered such medications intravenously or by injection. Some caregivers reported that they administer five to nine medications on a daily basis. Twenty percent of caregivers who manage medications said that they administer ten or more prescriptions daily. Many family caregivers said that they were afraid of making mistakes while administering medications, especially in cases in which a loved one is uncooperative.

Many family caregivers said that they provide such medical services to prevent their loved ones from going into a nursing home. However, 50 percent of those surveyed who provide medical services said that their insurance companies won’t pay for the care they provide and that they have no one else to help them. As a result, some caregivers reported feeling depressed and helpless, and 33 percent said that they are in fair or poor health.

As roles for family caregivers increase, and as the elder population in the United States continues to grow, the report concludes that a new approach to caregiving is needed. For instance, the report recommends that health care professionals and health care organizations such as hospitals, home health agencies and nursing homes should provide training and support to family caregivers who provide critical medical and nursing care. The report also suggests that federal and state policymakers should consider caregivers’ needs when developing health care models. Because family caregivers provide critical services, meeting their needs is important to prevent medical errors that could result in avoidable and costly hospitalizations.

Website Resource: Caregiver Role Becomes More Demanding, Report Finds

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