Reaching out to Caregivers through Physicians

By Dern, Adrienne; Heath, Angela | Generations, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Reaching out to Caregivers through Physicians


Dern, Adrienne, Heath, Angela, Generations


The Making the Link program.

While carcgiving is generally considered a family affair-something family members do for each other as a matter of course-caregiving is not without cost. Studies have shown that caregiving extracts a toll through increased stress, depression, illness, and even rates of mortality. Moreover, even though caregiving may occupy a great deal of an individual's time, many caregivers do not identify themselves as such. According to many surveys (e.g., AARP, 2001), some 15 percent of caregivers do not consider themselves to be caregivers, even though they provide the kind of help typically associated with caregiving. For this reason, many who serve in a caregiving role do not seek services that could help relieve some of their burden.

To address the unique needs of caregivers, Congress established die National Family Caregiver Support Program in 2000. It is administered by the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) as a part of die Older Americans Act. A 2003 AoA report specifically acknowledges the critical role played by family caregivers: "Fami lies, not social service agencies, nursing homes or government programs, are die mainstay of longterm care for older persons in die United States."

The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging applied to AoA for funding to implement a program that would allow the association to help area agencies on aging and Title VI-Native American aging programs (the agencies that administer die Caregiver Support Program in their communities) to reach out to caregivers through physicians. The funded project is called Making die Link: Connecting Caregivers with Services through Physicians.

Physicians clearly can play an important role in supporting caregivers. First, caregiving is a potentially serious health risk in and of itself, as major physician organizations have recognized. second, caregivers are usually involved in many ways in the medical care of the person diey are caring for, but widiout guidance and training are often unprepared and may unwittingly compromise die quality and effectiveness of die medical care. And, by working with caregivers, physician practices also can benefit in a number of ways-through increased patient healtiicare compliance, decreased staff time devoted to responding to caregivers' concerns, and an enhanced reputation as a "caring practice."

To accomplish the task of involving physicians in outreach to caregivers, Making the Link is undertaking a national public awareness campaign in combination with efforts to inform and enlist local physicians.

RAISING AWARENESS AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL

At the outset, we at the National Association of Areas on Aging recognized that die project we were developing for area agencies and Tide VI programs would have a greater chance for success if the physicians diat representatives of diese programs approached were already sensitized to die issues and concerns of caregivers. We created an advisory board of members of major physician and caregiving organizations and enlisted several odier groups to serve as partners in a national awareness campaign to get the word out to physicians about the many healdi-related implications of caregiving. The partners consist of die following organizations: The American Academy of Family Physicians, die American Association of Medical Society Executives, the American College of PhysiciansAmerican Society of Internal Medicine, the American Geriatrics Society, the American Medical Association, die American Project Access Network, Families and Healdi Project/United Hospital Fund, die Healtii Resources and Services Administration, the Indian Health Service, die National Alliance for Caregiving, and die National Healdi Council.

We also understood die importance of communicating with physicians in ways diat would resonate widi diem. For diis task, we worked with a communications consultant well versed in caregiving issues to help us develop appropriate messages about die connections between healthcare and caregiving. …

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