Last Updated: October 30, 2018
For decades, healthcare professionals, industry experts and politicians have been weighing in on the impact that America’s rapidly aging population will have on society — but little planning or thought seems to have gone into how our aging population is changing the family life or how these changes are impacting family caregivers.
Learn more about the benefits of family-centered care and the impact it can have on caregivers and senior loved ones.
A recent report, “Families Caring for an Aging America“found that“17.7 million individuals in the United States are family caregivers of someone age 65 and older who has a significant impairment.” These family caregivers are providing the majority of the long-term care and support services for America’s aging population, often at their own expense and with little to no medical background or training.
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“Even if older adults are living in an assisted living community, there is still often a loved one who is caring for them and giving them support.” Senior Housing News reports.
The plight of family caregivers is a pressing issue across the country. The “Families Caring for an Aging America”reportshows that the demand for family caregivers is increasing significantly while “the size of American families is shrinking and the makeup of families is changing as more people do not have children, never marry, divorce or blend families through remarriage. Moreover, half of family caregivers are employed.”
The study showed that “the intensity and duration of caregiving and the older adult’s level of impairment are consistent predictors of negative health effects for the caregiver. Family members who spend long hours caring for older relatives with advanced dementia, for example, are especially at risk.”
Some of the risks for family caregivers in the report included:
Other barriers that family caregivers face include:
Currently, the focus for senior care is in a person-centered approach, where the needs and privacy of the senior are the only consideration. However, when a family-centered approach is also taken into account — an approach where the senior and the family caregiver’s needs are considered, better outcomes are experienced for everyone involved.
According to Senior Housing News, “preparing providers… to deliver person-and family-centered care to older adults will have multiple benefits for all parties.”
In order to do this, Senior Housing News suggests that healthcare and senior living providers need to:
Although the premise for family-centered care is sound, privacy laws are causing hurdles that some families are struggling to overcome.
“In current care models, there is a huge focus on protecting the privacy and other personal health information of patients,” Jennifer Wolff, Ph.D., associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and member of the Committee on Family Caregiving for Older Adults, told Senior Housing News. “Because of this, a lot of family caregivers who are navigating the system alongside their loved ones don’t have access to information to effectively meet their health care needs. This is why providers need to ensure that family caregivers understand the care needs of older adults.”
Until legislation changes, many health care providers will find themselves with their hands tied when it comes to trying to offer a family-centered care approach.
Two pieces of legislation are currently attempting to bridge the gap between family caregivers and healthcare providers:
The Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act “requires hospitals and rehab facilities to support family caregivers by, for instance, providing more in-person instruction on medical tasks, and it has been effective in helping family caregivers; however, it has limited reach, as it covers only 18 states and Puerto Rico,” Senior Housing News reports.
The Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act was designed to promote family-centered care in a variety of settings and will have a wider reach than the CARE Act, but it hasn’t been passed by Congress yet.
Until family-centered care becomes the norm, health care providers must find a way to work alongside the family to provide the best care for seniors while properly supporting family caregivers in an effort to reduce the financial and health risks these caregivers face.
Do you use a family-centered care approach in your life? Share your experiences and stories with us in the comments below.