Providing Support for Caregivers - A Guide for Community Pharmacies
By Braheim Knight, R.Ph. |
Caregivers often put their own lives on hold to take care of the sick, disabled and elderly. Making multiple trips to hospitals and pharmacies while navigating the administrative requirements to ensure the care of a loved one is an unmistakable sacrifice. And caregivers frequently volunteer to take on this critical role with no formal training and without compensation.
But caregivers do not have to bear this burden alone. Community pharmacists, an easily accessible provider to patients and caregivers, should become an integral part of their support network. Pharmacists can offer guidance, encouragement and education to ease caregivers’ burdens and help them achieve the best possible outcomes in their role without sacrificing their own well-being.
Who are caregivers?
Imagine a 49-year-old woman who’s caring for her 69-year-old mother and does not live with her. She is married, has a full-time job and has two children under the age of 18. While this is the average caregiver according to the National Alliance for Caregiving,1 caregivers are a diverse group of people each with a unique set of circumstances and pain points.
Caregivers are sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, friends, nephews and nieces. They can be anyone who is trusted to take on the responsibility of caring for someone. While some people rely on the assistance of paid providers, 65% rely exclusively on unpaid family members and friends for care2, which accounts for nearly 44 million Americans.3
Caregivers juggle multiple responsibilities, including work, school and caring for their own families (37% report having children under the age of 18 living with them4). Some may even be children themselves, translating for their parents or grandparents and navigating their care. Many of them are employed while taking care of their loved ones (one in six employed individuals report assisting with the care of an elderly or disabled family member5). In addition, their roles as caregivers can vary depending on where they live, the type of illness their loved one suffers from and different cultural influences.6 Each caregiver has a different set of circumstances, but all have one thing in common: selflessness.
While this selflessness leads to the compassionate act of becoming a caregiver, it also means they don’t put themselves first and often allow their own health to slip.
Caring for themselves first
We often forget that caregivers need care, too. Caregiving can take a physical and emotional toll that can lead to serious physical illness and depression.7 According to HealthinAging.org, 16% of caregivers report a worsening of health since becoming a caregiver, as they often neglect their own well-being to provide care for others.
Because caregivers are such an essential part of today’s healthcare system, there is an increased focus on their health. While caregivers are often inquisitive about their loved one’s health or medication regimen, they rarely talk about their own. That’s why it’s important for pharmacists to open up this line of communication and frequently ask the caregiver about their own health.
While pharmacists must stress the importance of caring for oneself first, they must also improve recognition of physical and psychological symptoms common among caregivers in order to refer them to the appropriate medical professional for advice. Independent pharmacies could also make a special push to encourage caregivers to get their annual flu vaccine — to ensure they stay healthy enough to keep caring for their loved one and also to reduce the chances they catch and then transmit the virus to the person they are trying to help.
Ultimately, assisting with the health of a caregiver is also assisting with the health of their loved one.
Helping caregivers meet the needs of their loved ones
While an integral part of the healthcare team, the vast majority of caregivers have little to no experience in the medical field. This can make providing support to someone who requires a lot of medical attention and medication administration a daunting task.
But pharmacists are in a unique position to assist caregivers and ease their worries, and it all starts with coming out from behind the counter and building a relationship with the caregiver.
For patients, administering the proper medication at the right time and correctly is an important part of achieving desirable health outcomes. Independent pharmacists can have a positive impact by educating both patients and caregivers on the proper way to take medications.
For example, let’s say someone under a family member’s care is supposed to take a medication three times a day. Does that mean the medication should be taken every eight hours? Or should it be taken with meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner? The community pharmacist can explain the appropriate time to take each medication and explain potentially dangerous or adverse interactions — such as different fruit juices that might increase bioavailability or decrease absorption of certain drugs.
Pharmacists can also educate caregivers on administering drugs via syringes, the correct way to measure liquid medications and how to use glucose meters or properly take blood samples. All of this is part of the pharmacist’s duty to thoroughly explain and demonstrate to increase the caregiver’s confidence.
Stopping potentially dangerous interactions
When patients are taking multiple medications, it can be a challenge for caregivers to keep track of which medication should be taken at what time, while also looking out for potentially dangerous drug interactions. Independent pharmacists should encourage caregivers to come to the pharmacy on designated “brown-bag days.” On such days, caregivers can collect all of the medications currently being taken by the patient under their care — both prescription and OTC —and bring them to the pharmacist for review.
Caregivers may not be aware that OTC medicines can have serious interactions or contraindications with prescription drugs. There’s also the possibility that caregivers use one pharmacy that’s more convenient for him or her, while the patient uses another. Prescriptions could also be filled through mail-order pharmacies. All of this means that it’s impossible for the pharmacist to have a complete picture of all the medications the patient is currently taking. The pharmacist can use the brown-bag day as an opportunity to encourage the caregiver to consolidate all the patient’s prescriptions at a single pharmacy, which will allow the pharmacist to monitor for compliance and potentially dangerous drug interactions more easily.
How to ease a caregiver’s burden
Between work, family and caregiving, caregivers’ stresses and burdens can seem overwhelming, which is why it’s the duty of a community pharmacy to assist them in their role.
Pharmacists are an integral part of a caregiver’s support network, and it’s important that caregivers are aware that a community pharmacy can be their greatest resource, where they go for reassurance, to ask questions and to gain insights.
A community pharmacy is the most accessible healthcare provider, on the front lines assisting caregivers with all their questions and concerns. As doctors require appointments and the internet is full of jargon, a community pharmacy could be the only place he or she can turn. This makes it imperative that independent pharmacists let caregivers know they are committed to offering convenient, accessible care.
Given the busy schedules many caregivers have, which often includes full-time jobs and/or caring for their own children, a community pharmacy’s hours of operation might not be convenient. And if a caregiver has a late-night drug-related emergency, he or she will need to contact a pharmacist. To address this issue, community pharmacies can post an emergency after-hours phone number on their website and entrance that caregivers can call on nights or weekends if an urgent matter arises.
One simple way to create convenience and ease caregivers’ burden is by offering free home delivery services. A delivery option can make all the difference in providing caregivers with the resources they need to make sure patients stay compliant and adherent to their prescriptions. It’s this type of above-and-beyond service that makes community pharmacies such valued institutions in their communities.
Caregivers provide a vital service and fill a gap that cannot be bridged by the current healthcare industry. When community pharmacists recognize the needs of caregivers as individuals, both patients and caregivers will reap the benefits. It’s this sort of human touch that builds trust between independent pharmacies and caregivers, leading to stronger relationships, better communication and more positive health outcomes.
1. Caregiver Action Network. (2009). Caregiver Statistics. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2018 from http://caregiveraction.org/resources/caregiver-statistics
2. Family Caregiver Alliance. (2016). Women and Caregiving: Facts and Figures. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2018 from http://www.caregiver.org/women-and-caregiving-facts-and-figures
3. Family Caregiver Alliance. (2016). Caregiver Statistics: Demographics. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2018 from http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-statistics-demographics
4. Caregiver Action Network. (2009). Caregiver Statistics. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2018 from http://caregiveraction.org/resources/caregiver-statistics
5. Family Caregiver Alliance. (2016). Caregiver Statistics: Work and Caregiving. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2018 from http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-statistics-work-and-caregiving
6. Family Caregiver Alliance. (2016). Caregiving. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2018 from https://www.caregiver.org/caregiving
7. Aging & Health A to Z. (Nov. 2016). Caregiver Health: Basic Facts & Information. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2018 from http://www.healthinaging.org/aging-and-health-a-to-z/topic:caregiver-health