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Instruction Required! Training Family Caregivers

Kimberly Fowler
By Kimberly FowlerApril 28, 2017

For family caregivers, caring for a parent isn’t easy. The costs, long days and responsibilities all take a toll, but for many, it’s the lack of confidence and training that causes the most stress. 

Learn more about the benefits of training family caregivers and which resources caregivers can utilize.

Lack of Knowledge Creates Caregiver Stress

According to AARP, “almost half of the 42 million family caregivers in America have performed medical/nursing tasks for their loved ones. These tasks include managing multiple medications, providing wound care, managing special diets, [and] operating monitors or other specialized medical equipment. By providing this care, family caregivers play a critical role in helping to keep their loved ones from being readmitted to the hospital, out of costly institutions and safe at home. Most do so with no medical training.”

How do you take blood pressure, give an injection, or care for a wound? How do you help a loved one eat and drink so they aren’t at risk of choking? Is there a safer way to pick up someone who can’t walk? What are the warning signs that something is wrong? When should you take your loved one to the doctor, or the hospital?

These are all valid and important questions for caregivers to ask, questions which some caregivers don’t know the answers to. That’s because many hospitals discharge patients when they still require care at home – and that nursing care is often left to a family caregiver who isn’t equipped or knowledgeable in nursing.

That’s why the AARP and other community groups have lobbied strongly for the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, which has been passed by a number of states across the country. The CARE Act requires hospitals and rehabilitation facilities to prepare potential caregivers to know what the sick person may need, and how to take care of them. In Maine, rehabilitation and medical centers must provide caregivers with training or instructions. The caregiver’s name must be in the patient’s medical chart and the caregiver should be notified if a patient is discharged. New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma and California all have similar laws in place.

Training Family Caregivers Benefits Everyone

The benefits to patients and caregivers are obvious, but teaching caregivers the ins and outs of nursing a loved one at home has benefits for hospitals too. Created under the Affordable Care Act, the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program is the government’s attempt at reducing medical relapse and the high costs associated with readmission.

Medicare now has financial penalties in place for hospitals and medical centers that have high readmission rates. So, although hospitals aren’t receiving funding for providing training to caregivers, training programs do offer benefits. When family caregivers know how to properly take care of their loved one they can provide nursing as an important part of the patient’s road to recovery —a sound strategy to help reduce readmission rates.

Ways to Take Advantage of the Medical Teams Around You

So, what do you do if you’re a caregiver who lives in an area that doesn’t offer formal caregiver training or proper nursing instructions? You’ll need to ask a lot of questions of the medical team that is caring for your loved one. And, if the care is too much for you, ask for help. In many cases a doctor can recommend Medicare pay for skilled nursing care at home.

The level of instruction available to caregivers really depends on the medical center’s programs. According to Kaiser Health News, some, like Cooper University Health Care in New Jersey have a team that includes social workers and home health nurses who work together with the family caregiver to plan a patient’s hospital discharge.

Many nurses enjoy the opportunity to share their skills with family caregivers. David Wilson, a registered nurse from Crozer-Keystone Home Health services told Kaiser Health News that “teaching is part of his work.” A wound specialist, Wilson shows caregivers how to clean and dress a patient’s wounds, and what to expect as part of the healing. With the skilled help and instruction of a nurse like Wilson, family caregivers can feel more confident in safely caring for their loved one.

If you or a family caregiver you know are unsure whether you’re providing proper care for your family member, then there are a number of resources available to help connect you with the information and instruction that you need, including AARP’s Family Caregiving Centre.

What information, skills or training have you learned as a caregiver that you wish you’d known sooner?  We’d like to hear your stories and suggestions in the comments below.

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Kimberly Fowler
Kimberly Fowler
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