People often ask me, “Why did you start Family Caregiver Assistance?” I used to respond with a variation of reasons, “I saw a need and filled it.” “There are so many people needing help and unsure where to go.” Or “I felt like it was the right thing to do.” Those were all good and honest responses, however, more frequently when asked I now respond with “Something needs to be done to fix this, and I’m blessed to help do a small part.”
Or course that response usually opens up even more questions. “What needs to be fixed?” “What areas of our healthcare system are failing?” “What parts of our society and culture need shifted?” Although our healthcare system is in many ways the best in the world and although our culture and society are generally good, that does not mean we should not assess how things are done and how they may need to change.
In many ways the current methods we use to deal with illness, care giving, aging parents, chronic illnesses, and a slue of other healthcare issues needs shifting.
Often times a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or even a short term illness, given a diagnosis by a doctor and simply sent on their way. Over my years in nursing I’ve seen family members leave health care facilities after receiving a terrible diagnosis; they were shocked, confused, and more often than not unaware of how to correctly and safely care for themselves while caring for their loved one.
Families are sent home without training, resources, and information on how to give medications, how to make sure their loved one is eating well, how to prevent falls and hospital re-admission to name a few.
As a nurse I know that this is not necessarily the doctors and nurses fault. I know from experience how hard it can be for the healthcare workers. Many nurses and doctors see dozens of patients a day, and they do their best to provide the best care possible. With limited time and resources available families are unable to get the information needed in the 15-minute visit they have every so often with their PCP. They come and go from this specialist to that specialist and never fully learn how to properly care for their loved one in need. I’ve comforted patients, cried with patients, and told them they would be okay, but what else can be done in such a limited time? What can be done to fix this?
It was not until I became a caregiver myself that I truly realized the emotional strain and pain that a caregiver can feel. As a nurse I know how to properly lift someone out of bed, I know how and when to give them their medications, and I know safety precautions. However, when I became a caregiver, I began to realize that even with my experience, training, and knowledge I still experienced fatigue, emotional strain, and knowledge deficit regarding how to care for a loved one.
I began to remember all those patients and families in the past that I had been with after a life-altering diagnosis. They did not have any type of healthcare training that I did, they did not know how to safely care for the person they loved, and they did not know how to safely care for themselves in the process. Yet, they were sent off without help to do a very difficult, life altering job. If I as a nurse with training was experiencing difficulties I can only imagine the trials these people were facing. What can be done to fix this?
Recent studies show over 30 million people in the United States are caring for a loved one. Whether it be an adult child taking care of their aging parent, or a woman taking care of her sister with cancer, caregivers are all around us. Very few of these individuals have gone to a class or been taught how to be a caregiver, many have just learned by trail and error and done the best they could.
Most caregivers go unnoticed, however without their sacrifice the healthcare community would be overwhelmed with more patients to care for than healthcare workers are available to care for them. Many times caregivers themselves die before the person they are caring for due to stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep from not knowing how to properly care for another. These can all cause the caregiver to develop illnesses they would normally not have. What can be done to fix this?
Statistically 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Reproduction rates are decreasing, and people are living longer than ever before. The numbers can be overwhelming and can lead to a lot of questions. One question I hear often is “Who is going to take care of everyone when we all get older?” To some of us that may seem like a silly question that they have never thought of before, but to those of us working in healthcare it is anything but silly. Nursing homes are overpopulated and with every passing year more and more of our aging population will have to either move in with family or age in place. Studies show that aging individuals live longer and have a better quality of life if they remain in home with family in lieu of entering a long term care facility or nursing home. Although this is good news, the question then arises as to how will these family members and caregivers know how to care for their aging loved one? What can be done to fix this?
Enter Family Caregiver Assistance. Family Caregiver Assistance is our way of doing our small part to fix this growing problem. Our classes are designed with families and lay people in mind. Teaching families how to properly care for loved ones is a long overdue solution to this growing healthcare problem our country is facing. The more knowledge and training a caregiver has the longer life expectancy of the patient, and a better quality of life for both the caregiver and care receiver. Hospital readmission, secondary illnesses, and injuries are all less likely to occur when a caregiver has obtained additional knowledge and resources.
Our goal, dream, and vision is that as many people in our community as possible are able to attend our classes. We not only want our students to attend and gain instruction on how to be a caregiver, but we want them to leave with a newfound reassurance and confidence, so they can in turn safely and properly help the person they are caring for have their needs met. Whether someone is caring for a loved one during a short term illness, a long term illness, or end of life issues, giving individuals the knowledge they need will empower them, provide for safety, decrease healthcare costs, and improve people’s lives.
As healthcare workers our mission will always be to improve the lives of families and caregivers to better improve our community.