3 Strategies to Help Win the War for Caregiver Health
What image comes to mind when you think of a symbiotic relationship? Probably few would picture the relationship between a patient and a family caregiver, yet such a relationship represents a critical type of symbiosis—one that healthcare providers need to consider when developing patient engagement strategies. Why? According to recent studies, approximately 34.2 million Americans provide care for an elderly or infirm adult. And as we’ve noted before, these informal caregivers play an important role in the care continuum.
More than a decade ago, for example, the total cost of informal caregiving for elderly individuals with diabetes ranged between $3 and $6 billion annually, and over time, those numbers have climbed. More importantly, the longer caregiving continues, the greater the toll it takes on an individual’s health which, in turn, directly affects the quality of care they are able to provide.
What Do We Know about Family Caregivers?
Quite a bit, as it happens. The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the AARP Public Policy Institute have joined forces to publish Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, a report based on data collected toward the end of 2014. The latest research into informal caregiving reveals:
- 60 percent of caregivers are women.
- 85 percent of caregivers care for a relative; nearly half of those care for a parent or parent-in-law, and 10 percent caring for a spouse.
- The median age of caregivers is 49.
- 24 percent of caregivers have been providing care for 5 years or more.
The more worrying statistics, however, have to do with how caring for an older adult impacts the health of the caregiver.
- 17 percent of caregivers report fair or poor health—that’s 7 percent higher than the general population.
- 22 percent of caregivers report their health has declined as a direct result of caregiving.
When the caregiving role is prolonged, the declines in health can be more significant for both the patient and the caregiver.
Older individuals with a chronic conditions like diabetes, for example, experience complications that can lead to ever-increasing demands for care. Co-morbidities make activities of daily living (ADLs) more difficult, increase fall risks and generally cause a decline in the patient’s health that also causes a corresponding increase in the mental and physical stresses of caregiving.
Providers Must Meet Caregivers Where They Are.
Our own research shows that, like the patients they support, informal caregivers can be classified into distinct psychographic segments—the most common being Self Achievers and Willful Endurers, who happen to be exact opposites in how they approach their own health & wellness. As such, healthcare providers must consider their attitudes towards healthcare and communication preferences, as well as the challenges they face in providing care, when crafting patient engagement strategies.
At least half of the caregivers surveyed reported that they had no choice in taking on the role of caregiver, a fact that can increase the negative mental and physical health impacts on the caregiver.
Providing support services to caregivers who feel this sense of obligation can help with the negative impact of caregiving. These support services need to be provided in ways that reach both the Self-Achiever and the Willful Endurer segments. Both of these segments are likely to turn to social media to engage with healthcare providers, so a video series on managing stress while caregiving could be an effective engagement tool.
Chronic or long-term conditions among care recipients lead to a decline in health for both patients and caregivers.
Since many of the complications or co-morbidities of chronic diseases like diabetes are preventable, healthcare providers need to engage both the patient and the caregiver in preventive care. Healthcare checklists that are available on the web, perhaps through a partnership with organizations like AARP or caregiver support networks, can reach the more proactive Self-Achievers. For the reactive Willful Endurers, telephonic outreach programs to prompt wellness check-ups can help these caregivers better manage health conditions to minimize complications, leading to reduced stress for everyone involved.
Caregivers focus so much effort on providing care and neglect their own health.
Healthcare providers can provide reminders via a caregiver’s preferred channel—email, text, phone—for routine healthcare visits, tips for self-care and more to more proactively engage caregivers in not just supporting patients, but in managing their own mental, emotional and physical health needs in light of the care duties they undertake. PatientBond, is a platform that allows for such outreach in an efficient and cost-effective manner. The messaging via email, text and phone is even customized to the recipient’s psychographic segment and communication preferences.
Providers Must Engage with Caregivers to Improve Outcomes.
Given the sheer size of the caregiving population, healthcare providers need to consider more direct patient engagement strategies to reach caregivers for two reasons: to positively impact health outcomes for both the patient and the informal caregiver.
How are you cultivating a more symbiotic relationship with the informal caregivers of your patients?