Acting as a caregiver can be stressful, thankless, and exhausting. This is true whether caregiving is done formally as one’s profession or informally as an act of love for an elderly loved one. What’s more, it can lead to burnout, permanent career implications, and even health problems. This is especially true in the case of informal caregivers. Often, these caregivers care for elderly family members in addition to having jobs and their own spouses and children.
Since November is National Family Caregivers Month, it is appropriate to examine ways to improve the quality of life for caregivers and elderly patients alike.
As much as caregivers struggle with quality of life issues, so do recipients of care. It goes without saying that being an elderly person can be quite challenging. The loss of independence and the frailty of the elderly body impact quality of life a great deal. Certainly, living in a facility is a major and often unwelcome life change. To this end, Georgia State University is conducting a lengthy study on caregiver and patient quality of life in care facilities in hopes of finding ways to improve the experience all around.
Quality of life challenges for caregivers
Formal caregivers. Formal caregivers, such as employees of nursing homes, home health aides, and so on, face a number of challenges. Among them are excessive stress, a questionable career path, and a lack of oversight or direction in difficult circumstances. Thus, turnover is high. A high percentage of formal caregivers leave the within a few years of starting. Those who remain risk career stagnation, job dissatisfaction, and overall unhappiness in their career choice.
Informal caregivers. For all the challenges that formal caregivers face, informal caregivers are perhaps even worse off. These caregivers are people who have elected to either drop their jobs to provide care to an ailing loved one or who attempt to juggle their work and familial obligations with caregiving.
Informal caregivers may experience permanent damage to their career paths as a result of missing significant periods of work. They are often passed over for promotions or special projects because they simply don’t have the time for the responsibilities. In addition, they have the other aspects of their lives, such as raising their own children, to attend to. Acting as caregivers to elderly loved ones can sometimes add more to their plates than they can reasonably manage. A surprisingly high number of informal caregivers end up developing health problems of their own. This is likely due to the excessive stress that they experience over the course of a number of years.
Quality of life challenges for residents of care facilities
Of course, caregivers are not the only parties facing challenges. Residents of nursing homes and other care facilities have their own issues. These include frustration and depression at the loss of their independence, struggles with adapting to their limitations, and so on. For those residents who suffer from dementia and may not be aware of their surroundings, quality of life issues can include even the most basic tasks of feeding and dressing themselves. Other issues can include dissatisfaction with the facility they are in (regardless of how good the facilities may be), problems sleeping, or physical discomfort.
While some of these challenges are simply an inevitable part of aging, some of them may be ameliorated. As such, a best practices guide could make a significant difference in the quality of life enjoyed by elderly nursing facility residents.
Georgia State University hopes to help caregivers and elderly residents alike
Considering the wide range of challenges facing all parties in a caregiving arrangement, the Georgia State University Gerontology Institute is engaging in a lengthy study. The study includes multiple assisted living facilities. It aims to come up with a list of “best practices” in various situations. The researchers studied both formal and informal caregivers and recipients of care in residential care facilities.
The researchers believe that the study is necessary, at least in part, because of the changing nature of care arrangements. Decades ago, elder care was much simpler than it is today. With fewer options available, elderly people followed a fairly standard path. However, with all of the options available today, things have grown complicated. The broad array of care networks available and the services they offer can actually make it more difficult to choose.
The Georgia State University team hopes to obtain and categorize information relating to various treatment options and care networks. Thus, they hope to provide a set of comprehensive care network suggestions. In so doing, the researchers hope to minimize the challenges facing caregivers and elderly people alike. They hope to provide ways for all people involved in a caregiving arrangement to lead fuller and happier lives.
Bowers, L. A. (Oct. 19, 2016). 5-year, $1.9 million study aims to improve resident, caregiver quality of life. McKnight’s Senior Living (website). Available at http://www.mcknightsseniorliving.com/news/5-year-19-million-study-aims-to-improve-resident-caregiver-quality-of-life/article/567004/. Last visited October 28, 2016.
Mosher, C. E., Adams, R. N., Helft, P. R., O’Neil, B. H., Shahda, S., Rattray, N. A., Champion, V. L. (2016). Family caregiving challenges in advanced colorectal cancer: patient and caregiver perspectives. Supportive Care in Cancer, 24: 2017-2024. Available at http://www.mascc.org/assets/Pain_Center/2016_May/may_2016-19.pdf. Last visited Novermber 3, 2016.
Oliver, D. P., Demiris, G., Washington, K. T., Clark, C., Thomas-Jones, D. (2016). Challenges and Strategies for Hospice Caregivers: A Qualitative Analysis. The Gerontologist. Doi: 10.1093/geront/gnw054. Available at http://gerontologist.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/04/05/geront.gnw054.abstract. Last visited October 28, 2016.