Family members are very often not prepared to take on the task of caregiving – especially as many family caregivers are providing services typically reserved for registered nurses and doctors.
The report, “State of the Science: Professional Partners Supporting Family Caregiving,” (www.NursingCenter.com/AJNfamilycaregivers) is a joint endeavor of the AARP Foundation, the American Journal of Nursing, the Council on Social Work Education and its Journal of Social Work Education, the Family Caregiver Alliance, and Rutgers Center for State Health Policy (New Jersey).
Family and other informal caregivers provide the vast majority of the long-term care provided in this country. Yet the 44 million caregivers assisting those 18-plus years of age tend to have limited preparation for the job and receive limited ongoing support even as their contributions to the economy have been estimated at $350 billion annually.
The report argues that the relationships between and among nurses, social workers, patients and the friends and family who care for them must change as Americans live longer and need more long-term care at the same time that the nation faces workforce shortages among healthcare professionals, and earlier discharge from hospitals require more sophisticated care to be provided by family caregivers.
“Family caregivers are often asked to do things that would make nursing students tremble,” said Susan Reinhard, RN, PhD, AARP’s senior vice president for Public Policy.
“At the same time, America’s healthcare system has yet to take into adequate account both the risks and responsibilities carried by family and other informal caregivers and the potential to improve patient care if they are given more support and treated like partners with healthcare professionals,” said Kathleen Kelly, executive director, Family Caregiver Alliance.
To that end, the report redefines best practices in the fields of nursing and social work as they concern caregiving for older adults and the partner organizations have pledged to spread those practices to reach more caregivers. As an initial step, a database of tools and resources for both family caregivers and professionals is available on the Family Caregiver Alliance website at www.caregiver.org.
“Our ultimate goals are to change the everyday practices, standards and protocols of the healthcare delivery system to treat both patient and caregiver as clients and to educate the next generation of nursing and social work professionals to serve caregivers in new and beneficial ways,” said Diana J. Mason, RN, PhD, editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Nursing. “We also hope to be able to raise family caregivers’ own expectations about the support they should receive from professionals.”
The report also argues for eliminating the barriers to engaging caregivers that nurses, discharge planners and social workers currently face, such as lack of time due to heavy workloads.
The parties to the report pledged to partner with families in new ways to:
• Improve families’ ability to better manage their everyday care responsibilities, reduce their own burdens and health risks, and promote a better quality of life for both the older adults receiving care and the family members providing it.
• Improve professionals’ ability to assess the needs of family, friend, and neighbor caregivers; provide caregivers with the information and skills needed to deliver care; and lead in the development of family-friendly policies, practices and environments across healthcare settings.
The report both outlines the knowledge and skills needed by the caregiving professionals and suggests ways to develop them. It also lays out an agenda for future research on family caregiving.
“The unified voices of the professionals and loved ones who have the closest relationships with patients make this a particularly powerful statement of goals,” concluded AARP’s Reinhard. “With this unanimity of purpose, we will be able to begin to change the course of healthcare in America.”