This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

March 19, 2014

Focusing on Family Caregivers

Recently, the United States National Institutes of Health brought together healthcare professionals from all over the United States to talk about taking care of family caregivers of patients with cancer and chronic illnesses, an often-overlooked group of people. Though unpaid, the value caregivers collectively bring to the healing process has been estimated at estimated at 259 USD Billion.

Caregivers provide physical, social, psychological, and financial positive impacts, by helping in a myriad ways. Whether they are acting as administrators, handling logistics, social secretaries, scheduling appointments, or simply taking the place of a hired hand, their contributions to the equation are significant. But now, we are coming to understand the tolls that their participation takes on their lives.

We wrote in 2010 about the billions of dollars that caregiving is costing employers. Besides missing work, if caregivers are employed, their work often suffers and/or they feel greatly increased levels of stress from trying "to do it all".

From a fairly recent review of all of the studies conducted, we now see findings indicate "caregiver stress can lead to psychological and sleep disturbances and changes in their physical health, immune function, and financial well-being." Proven interventions with these caregivers can "reduce many of these negative effects and improve their coping skills, knowledge, and quality of life". However, here's the sad part: "although these interventions also decrease patients' symptoms, reduce mortality, and improve patients' physical and mental health, they are seldom implemented in practice".

In fact, recent studies point to an increased risk of death, due to their caregiver role. In one study there was an association between caregiving and increased coronary heart disease. In another, the spousal caregivers who reported caregiving strain had a 63 percent greater risk of death four years later than non-caregivers who were matched on demographics and physical health status. Other studies offered similar findings.

Though this NIH work group is in the US, the literature review cited articles from around the world. Our forecast is that national health programs around the globe will increasingly understand the importance of providing support to caregivers. This support will take two forms: first they will insist family caregivers join support groups and second, they will mandate regular office visits with a healthcare professional for the caregivers, as well as the patients. ###

Special thanks to Dr. Beverly Reigle, RN and Director, Cancer Survivorship Program, University of Cincinnati, for her help and inspiration in the preparation of this Alert.

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