Keep an eye on patients who care for others

Caregiving takes a toll on those who provide the care. Results of a national survey show that nearly three out of four Americans who care for a family member or friend who is disabled, elderly or has physical or mental limitations said caregiving had at least some impact on their health.

The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) in March, looked at both the impact of caregiving and caregivers’ need for credible information about their family members’ changing health needs and how to balance caregiving with other responsibilities.

Among its findings:

  • Nearly nine in 10 (88 percent) of caregivers felt one or more stressors associated with caregiving.
  • Six in 10 (60 percent) caregivers said caregiving caused them to lose sleep at least sometimes.
  • Slightly more than half (52 percent) said their caregiving responsibilities caused them to neglect their other responsibilities such as meeting their own health needs, running errands, caring for their home, and spending time with other family and friends at least sometimes

The study report noted that the challenge will grow with time. As the number of people age 65 and older increases, demand for caregiving will rise. Today, 43.5 million Americans provide care for someone age 50 and older, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. The Alzheimer’s Association’s 2012 Facts and Figures report that 15.2 million Americans care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.

Moreover, surveyed caregivers indicated they sought out information about their loved one’s health and about balancing caregiving with other responsibilities:

  • Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of caregivers who manage the health of those they provide care for sought information from their physician or health care provider when they had questions about the health of those they care for. Of those, nearly all (96 percent) sought information from a primary care physician.
  • More than half (57 percent) sought information on the Internet.
  • More than half (56 percent) of caregivers felt there was no single online resource for highly credible health information on caregiving.
  • More than half (58 percent) of caregivers said they were frustrated by having to go to multiple resources when they’re trying to find information on a specific health issue.

The findings demonstrate that caregivers need a comprehensive clearinghouse of information, such as, that addresses health conditions and activities of daily living that can be a challenge for 40.4 million elderly Americans and those who care for them, according to Glen Stream, MD, MBI, president of the AAFP.

“This age of instant information is a boon and a challenge for caregivers,” Stream commented. “Caregiving can be a challenge as new health issues develop and a loved one’s needs change. Family physicians are the place to start for information about a loved one’s health, but millions of Americans turn to online sources to learn — for example — how to keep the home environment safe or how to make sure an elderly loved one is eating right. That’s where comes in. It’s a resource that complements the patient-centered medical home, where care is coordinated across all settings, from the doctor’s office to hospitals to nursing homes and many other services that make up our healthcare system.”

AAFP  said it has significantly expanded information on the Seniors page of The enhanced page contains information about health care issues affecting the elderly such as preventive health for seniors, balancing work and caregiving, helping older adults deal with life-changing events, tips for keeping older adults safe, preventing falls in the home, improving communication with a relative with dementia, and depression in older adults.

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