Family Caregivers: Nurses by Default

Caregiver guides family member using safe stair-climbing technique. Photo courtesy of AARP Public Policy Institute.

We all know how compressed hospital stays are. Patients are frequently admitted and discharged within a few days, even for what used to be “big” surgeries. We dutifully send them home with discharge instructions—sometimes, pages of them—and often have only a few minutes to go over them with whoever is taking the patient home. And in many cases, that person is not even the one who will be caring for the patient, so instructions for medications and treatments are given second-hand. And we wonder why there are so many readmissions within 30 days!

Forty million plus unpaid caregivers in the United States.

As I note in this month’s editorial, there are over 40 million unpaid caregivers in this country who are administering complex medical and nursing interventions such as ostomy and wound care,  tube feedings, injections, and tracheostomy care, in addition to taking on bathing, toileting, and other necessary care. Many of these caregivers do so without any real training. Aside from the real danger that they may cause harm to the patient or to themselves, they often live in fear that they are not providing what […]