Our aging society presents an often overlooked challenge to the health of caregivers, particularly those who work in an informal or unpaid capacity. This subset of caregivers are often family members treating a loved one, and they have been known to suffer from elevated levels of depression and anxiety, higher use of psychoactive medications, worse self-reported physical health, compromised immune function and increased risk of early death, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Slightly more than half of caregivers indicate a decline in their health compromises their ability to provide care, which suggests fundamental problems at the core of the practice. A stunning 40.7 percent of caregivers report having two or more chronic diseases, and roughly a third are disabled.
There is evidence that care recipients whose caregivers lack methods of coping with the demands or have problems with depression are at risk for falling, developing preventable secondary complications and experiencing declines in functioning, according to research cited by the American Psychological Association.
Primary family caregivers should be supported with additional resources, including secondary caregivers, a study in The Gerentologist suggests. Indeed, caregiving should be seen as a community effort, not a one-person job. The health care community should embrace the caregiver, treat them with respect, and see them as a partner in delivering treatment, not a co-patient simply in need of help, as The Gerontologist concludes.
In many cases, caregivers have taken on roles often thought of as the domain of health care professionals. Slightly more than a third (37 percent) of caregivers are involved in giving medications, injections and medical treatments to the care recipient, according to the American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation. Among that group, 77 percent say they have to ask for advice about the medicines and medical treatments, and in most cases they turn to their health care provider.
This suggests a coordinated approach to care that liaises between multiple relevant stakeholders is of the greatest utility to those in need of care. Having an experienced navigator could reduce strain on a family member or volunteer who serves as the primary caregiver, and, ultimately, it could improve the level of care administered.