Palliative Care for Family Caregivers

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Often, the well-being of a family caregiver is overlooked as a pivotal point during the treatment process. Even with loving acceptance, a caregiver may suffer silently under the weight of responsibility, accountability, and loyalty while caring for an ailing loved one.Therefore, a family caregiver’s psychological, physical, and emotional health is important during the intervention process. An intervention design initially should include caregiver support as a part of a “holistic” treatment approach for both caregiver and patient.

The difficulties facing a family caregiver is well documented. Internal battles are set aside or dismissed (i.e., anxiety, resentment, guilt, and/or grief), and while he or she learns to adapt to the demands of being a family caregiver. Some caregivers already possess adequate coping mechanisms, while others will need additional psychological, emotional, and social support. Unfortunately, family caregiver intervention is frequently an afterthought or side note in an intervention design.

Feedback from caregivers echo this sentiment; the request for more education and support is constant. Without consideration of a family caregiver’s needs, the efficacy of an intervention is at risk. Tackling all potential obstacles early in the treatment process could save both time and money. If the caregiver becomes too burned out from daily demands and depressed, how can he or she function well enough to help the ailing loved one?

On the other hand, physicians are forced to take a “buyer beware” stance – family caregivers are not screened and selected before their loved one is diagnosed with a debilitating condition. Like blind dates, physicians and family caregivers are “coupled” together to plan and administer treatment. Of course, it is not love at first sight between all physician-family caregiver “couples”. Trials and errors seem to be an inevitable part of the physician-family caregiver relationship, but are paramount to the patient’s recovery and comfort.

The caregiver should be considered as much a patient as the critically ill loved one – as if the physician is treating two people. Studies confirm some successful caregiver intervention options: psychoeducation, supportive, day care/respite, and psychotherapy. Psychoeducation and psychotherapy offer the most benefits, such as an increase in knowledge/ability, caregiving satisfaction, and well-being. A family caregiver bears most of the burden of daily care for the patient, and the failure of an intervention affects them almost as much as the patients. Initial investment in the health and wellness of the caregivers will help to create an atmosphere of palliative care for both patient and caregiver.

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Dr. Lachaka Askew is a doctoral candidate of the Drew University’s Doctor of Medical Humanities program. She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from South University and a Master of Science in Health Science degree from Cleveland State University. Her foci are Neurodegeneration, Alzheimer’s disease interventions, and designing novel and innovative methods for Alzheimer’s interventions. She successfully defended her novel “3-D” Alzheimer’s Stage 1 Intervention Model during her CSU graduate studies. She hopes to work with leading hospitals to design successful Alzheimer’s interventions, using ministry and the arts.