This article by Ambra Health CEO, Morris Panner, was originally published in Forbes on October 29, 2019.
These results are unsurprising when you consider that the caregiver’s close relationship with the patient means they may have useful knowledge to share with the doctor. The caregiver may also be in a better mental or physical state to process information about a diagnosis or treatment and go over it later on with the patient to help make more informed medical decisions.
Accordingly, 90% of those oncologists who were surveyed viewed caregivers as having a “major to moderate impact” when it came to making decisions regarding the management of the disease. The vast majority of the oncologists surveyed had observed caregivers taking on the important roles of emotional support, decision making and transportation.
And these are just a few of the many responsibilities that caregivers frequently take on. Much of what they do goes unseen by nurses and physicians, as it includes tasks such as helping with medication, providing meals, managing records, facilitating exercise, assisting with finances, doing chores and much more. But caregivers aren’t superhuman. They have their own responsibilities to attend to and often feel out of their depth when it comes to providing healthcare assistance for their loved ones.
Whether it’s a positive or negative, experience may ultimately rest on an array of factors, including financial resources, the caregiver’s work and family demands, and gender (women disproportionately carry the responsibilities of caregiving).
New models and technologies can help support caregivers and patients.
One key way to address this complicated situation is to enable caregivers to offer the best possible support for the patient while also feeling supported themselves. For instance, Seniorlink is an in-home care model that uses technology to empower family caregivers with the expertise of a professional care team, providing the caregiver with peace of mind while producing better outcomes for patients.
Home Instead Senior Care launched “the first and only” crowdsourcing platform designed to raise money for nonprofits that support programs for seniors and has raised more than $1.6 million since 2016. Caring.com provides a database of searchable senior care resources covering a range of consumer-reviewed services from home and independent care to assisted living, memory care and nursing homes. Competitors that offer similar services include A Place for Mom, Care and AgingCare.
With a mission to create a network of family caregivers who can collaborate with each other, AARP launched CareConnection in 2016 to provide services from “scheduling and telehealth to professional advice.” Supported by a mobile app, it offers resources to find in-home providers from AARP-partner companies that include Comfort Keepers, CareLinx and Hometeam. For government-sponsored aging information and local assistance, the Administration of Aging of the U.S. Administration for Community Living has a tool to find eldercare services such as legal assistance, transportation and housing.
CareGeneral is another home-based care service that aims to reduce caregiver stress and overload with the help of technology. It offers mobile and web-based apps that assist with organizing the patient’s health data and enabling the caregiver to keep track of whether or not the patient is taking their medications, among other things.
Caregivers and professionals can work as a team.
With the baby boomer generation rapidly retiring and an insufficient number of nurses and formal caregivers (many of whom are already underpaid) available to meet the demand, the need for unpaid caregivers will only increase. The healthcare industry must do its best to recognize these dedicated people as critical allies who have the patients’ trust. It’s imperative that we prioritize finding creative ways to connect caregivers with supportive healthcare professionals and encourage doctors and nurses to view caregivers as vital members of patients’ care teams.
Caring for others is hard work.
“Families Caring for an Aging America,” a 2016 study published by the National Academies Press, found that the demands of caregiving appear to take a real toll, resulting in higher rates of anxiety, stress, emotional issues and depressive symptoms. The report concluded that “evidence also suggests that caregivers have lower self-ratings of physical health, elevated levels of stress hormones, higher rates of chronic disease, and impaired health behaviors.”
While diligently watching out for the best interests of a friend or loved one can be draining, the study also noted that caregiving has the potential to benefit its practitioners by boosting confidence, improving their ability to handle difficult situations and deepening their bond with the person they are caring for.