Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Caregivers: Remember You're Part of a Team

The National Caregiver Alliance recently published a report on family caregiving and transitional care. Most of us will experience some type of transition in care as we age and require far more assistance than any one person can provide, especially if a serious illness or injury occurs.

The goal of the report is to make family caregivers understand their role within a loved one's health care team and become a more informed and more active participant in a transitional care plan, particularly when an elder family member moves from hospital to home.

The report found that the family caregiver role in post-hospital care could be improved. "Although family caregivers are usually the persons who will actually implement care plans following release from the hospital, they rarely are actively engaged in discharge planning. Yet the transition decisions made hurriedly at the point of discharge can change the course of patients’ lives for years, as well as the lives of their family caregivers," according to the authors.

Among the major findings:
  • Family caregivers do not receive adequate recognition or support during the discharge process from health care professionals. They also may be hesitant to ask questions for fear of being seen as "difficult."
  • More engaged family caregivers see improvements in someone with physical, mental, and cognitive disorders, but health care providers should be cqreful not to burden them with complex medical care in the home, especially without training or in-home support from professionals.
  • Only four of the seven transitional care programs reviewed offered specific steps to actively engage family caregivers as partners. Outcomes for family caregivers, such as reductions in stress, weren reported for only two of the programs.
  • More emphasis on a continuum of care is needed with long-term services and support -- which is essential for most of the “high risk” older adults on which the programs focus, "and it is the part in which family caregivers play starring roles."
  • Family caregivers need to use the tools and guides available to them. There is a growing body of materials, in all media formats, to assist both patients and family caregivers during transitions. "The challenge now is to make these materials easily usable and available when needed, especially at the point of care. New technologies, especially digital personal technologies, hold promise in this regard."

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