Providing Care for Family Caregivers’ Support

Posted on October 3, 2021

People with chronic disabilities and older adults usually rely upon family members for caregiving. This "informal care" can be substantial in duration, scope, and intensity. Family caregiving raises the risk of health and safety. Caregivers can become "secondary patients" as caregiving places them at high risk for injury and adverse events. Family caregivers are usually unpaid providers who need and deserve guidance and protection to become safe and competent volunteer workers and to be able to protect their loved ones from harm better.

Who is a family caregiver? 

A family caregiver or an informal caregiver is usually an unpaid family member, neighbor, or friend who provides care to a person who has a chronic or acute condition and needs assistance with managing a variety of activities of daily living such as dressing, bathing, personal care, medication management, tube feeding, and ventilator care. Caregiving involves spending a large amount of time interacting and providing these activities. 

Sometimes a caregiver is an elderly spouse, and maybe in poor health themselves. In the last ten years, the percentage of elderly people that rely solely on family caregivers has increased dramatically. Caregiving periods can last from post-acute care after hospitalization to more than 40 years of ongoing care for chronic needs. 

Caregiving responsibilities:

Family caregivers are supposed to provide assistance with activities of daily living. But the complexity and stressfulness of caregiving do not take into account the patient's response and willingness to do so. Administering medications to patients already receiving multiple medications in a day, including eye drops, injections, inhalers, crushed tablets, and bathing a person who resists taking a bath, are the stressful parts of caregiving. 

Additionally, making decisions on behalf of patients who are unable to do so and trusting the decision to be right, supervising patients with memory issues, looking out for medication side effects, being responsible for nursing and procedures are all included in routine family caregiving tasks. 

Family caregivers may often be unprepared or lack adequate knowledge of managing urinary catheters, IV fluids lines, monitoring vitals, and handling emergencies. Family caregivers may not know how to access, and best utilize available community resources. The greatest demand on a family caregiver is when the patient is discharged home and interacting with nurses and other professionals in the hospital settings. 

Difficulties faced by Caregivers:

Family caregivers may often neglect their health care needs in order to help their loved ones, causing deterioration in physical health and mental well-being. One of the greatest challenges for family caregivers is interacting with health care professionals and receiving guidance for the tasks and emotional demands of caregiving. 

A decline in caregiver health has been related to their poor health status, increased use of prescription drugs, and smoking or substance abuse. Caregivers are at a higher risk of fatigue and sleep disturbances, lower immunity, increased blood pressure and insulin levels, altered lipid profile, and cardiovascular disease.

Though caregiving is a rewarding experience, caregivers can forget to take their prescription drugs for chronic illnesses, do not have time for exercise, or take enough rest leading to negative outcomes. Caregivers also need to balance caregiving with their work, and financial stress can increase their sense of burden. 

They can ease their responsibilities by making use of technology and assistive devices. Also, asking for help from friends and relatives can help relieve some burdens. Family caregivers must be aware of professional and community caregiving services if the need arises. 

Technological advancements have helped bridge the gap between caregivers and health professionals, apps to maintain health records, assistive devices around the house, and caregiver support groups have made some difficulties family caregivers' manageable.