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 their loved one needs.

Working with the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at the University of California-Davis, we are continuing our 10-year collaboration with the AARP Public Policy Institute to provide nurses with resources to better prepare family caregivers. It’s especially important in that the CARE Act, now passed in 39 states, requires institutions to inform and educate the person who will be providing care to the patient when discharged. (See this 2015 blog post from Susan Reinhard explaining the CARE Act.)

Resources for preparing family caregivers for specific tasks.

This month marks the launch of a series of articles and videos, which first focus on helping nurses prepare caregivers to safely assist with mobility and will next turn to helping caregivers to prevent falls or manage them if they occur. These will be followed by a series on skin and wound care.

Each article includes a tip sheet that nurses can copy and give to caregivers. The tips review key points and include links to instructional videos, which are available to caregivers on AARP’s Home Alone Alliance site in both English and Spanish and can also be accessed on AJN’s website.

Previous articles and videos focused on teaching family caregivers to help with medication administration. You can freely access these and other related resources aimed at supporting and educating family caregivers. We hope you will find them useful.

 

Editor-in-chief, AJN

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