We created Upward Care because there are specific challenges that family caregivers are experiencing that have not been adequately addressed by health care institutions or community resources. In this article series we will identify those challenges and explain how Upward Care can be a solution for those challenges. The challenges are outlined below:
Negative physical and mental health effects on family caregivers
Changing market conditions driving up the cost of home care
The role of a family caregivers can be just as rewarding as it can be overwhelming. Family Caregivers often times put all their energy, efforts and resources into the care of their loved one. They often have an internal mantra of, “No one can care for my loved one like I can”. They are correct in the assertion that love and empathy are essential in delivering great care but they must not forget that when it comes to family caregiving, caring for themselves is caring for their loved one.
One of the most surprising statistics for those unfamiliar with the Healthcare industry is just how many family caregivers there are in the United States today. According to a recent AARP report there are currently 43.5 million family caregivers. The average family caregiver will care for their loved over 24 hours per week for an average duration of over 4 years.
Even more eyebrow raising is that 80% of people will serve as family caregivers at some point in their lives. As surprising as it first may seem, the statistics make sense when we really think about the options available or lack there of, in caring for an aging spouse, parents, grandparent, aunt or sibling. If you consider how many people are helping a loved one with doctors appointments, personal care and other daily activities it shouldn't be surprising at all. For all the family caregivers out there - you are not alone!
Now that we understand how many people are impacted by the role of family caregivers we can start to understand why family caregivers often experience negative physical and emotional health outcomes. Over 50% of family caregivers report that serving in the caregiver role is not a choice. External factors including family support and financial limitations force them into the family caregiver role. The feeling of being forced into the role is often connected to a positive or negative outlook on their situation.
Caregiver burnout is a widely used term associate the stress of serving as a family caregiver. Family caregiving can be incredibly difficult, nearly 60% of family caregivers report depression. As a result family caregivers are on antidepressants at 2-3 times the rate of the general population. An even more startling statistic identified when analyzing the toll on family caregivers of our nation's Veterans is that a staggering 23.9% of military caregivers reported that since becoming a caregiver they either attempted or had thoughts about harming themselves. No matter what statistics we look at it is clear that the role of a family caregiver takes a significant toll on an individual's mental wellbeing.
If we take a look at the physical well being of our family caregivers the statistics are just as alarming. Now that they have an additional 24 hours of caregiving responsibility a week they stop doing their normal self care activities. The first things they cut back on is sleep, 82% of family caregivers report sleeping less. They then begin to cut back on exercise - 58% and healthy eating - 63%. After hearing those statistics it is unsurprising that caregivers report significant chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis at twice the rate of non-caregivers; 45% report one or more chronic conditions. Besides chronic conditions the physical nature of transfers and ambulation assistance can take a toll. A study performed by researchers at Ohio State University found that 94% reported experiencing muscle and joint pain in at least one body part, with the lower back (76%), knees, shoulder, and wrist (43% each) being the most common sites for discomfort. More than 78% of caregivers said that the pain impacted their ability to provide care, and 66% said the pain impacted their overall quality of life. Despite their own health challenges caregivers tend to go to the doctor less and more than half report missing their set appointments.
The real question is how does Upward Care address the emotional and physical challenges associated with family caregiving. The founder often gives talks to Health care workers including case manager, social workers and registered nurses on building family caregiver resilience and maintaining their well being. In his talks he often references trauma experts Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney’s research in which they have identified ten resilience factors that allow people in stressful and traumatic life situations to overcome obstacles, cope and maintain their well being. The ten resilience factors include characteristics like optimism, facing fear and social support.
What Charney and Southwick learned is if someone is trained for a task they are taking on they feel more prepared for that task. When people are thrust into a role with no training, guidance or support that is when people feel overwhelmed and stressed which can eventually lead to depression. It seems obvious, but this is exactly what we do to our family caregivers. Typically an event happens, a loved one falls or they are diagnosed with a health condition. Eventually the loved one is discharged from the hospital and now the family member becomes the primary caregiver. It is our philosophical belief that should be preparing family caregivers for that responsibility.
It is a similar situation when looking at the physical health decline associated with family caregiving. A significant number of the chronic conditions can be related to lack of exercise and poor sleeping and eating habits. A case can be made that when a family caregiver has a strong emotional wellbeing they begin to make healthy choices which can impact physical health.
Our training philosophy includes three core values - Communication,
Technique and Repeatability. Communication is key when building trust between a caregiver and care recipient. When developing curriculum we are specifically target proper technique associated with the more physical activities of daily living. These activities include proper transfer technique in a variety of situations, ambulation assistance and bathroom safety. These are the activities that lead to statistic stated earlier where 94% of family caregivers report muscle and joint pain. It is not enough to be able to do it one time in an ideal environment. The goal of the program is that family caregivers can repeatedly use the proper technique while at home delivering care. Repeatability and proper technique are equally important when improving health outcomes in family caregivers.
In the next section of the article we will analyze the market and why the current solutions are not adequately addressing the challenges described.