Caregiver study assesses training needs

July 2, 2008 9:12:14 AM PDT
They are considered the unsung heroes of the health care system, and now they are being researched. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, more than 50 million people provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year. About 17 percent of family caregivers are providing 40 hours of care a week or more.

The value of the services family caregivers provide for "free" is estimated to be $306 billion a year. That is almost twice as much as is actually spent on homecare and nursing home services combined. The need for family caregivers is only going to increase.

People over age 65 are expected to increase at a 2.3-percent rate, but the number of family members available to care for them will only increase at a 0.8-percent rate. Caregivers are also more likely to develop depression or anxiety due to the stress of being a caregiver.

A new study is underway at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. The study is focusing on the caregiver and how support can help not only the patient but also save the health care system money. The study is called, "Support of the Caregiver of the Older Cancer Patient Undergoing Chemotherapy."

Researchers say caregivers often go through a lot of stress trying to cope with all that is happening to their family member or friend. Researchers want to determine if a brief training program for caregivers will give them confidence to help manage patients' symptoms, improving the quality of life for both of them.

For the study, caregivers will receive one-on-one time with a nurse and be given a home care guide to help answer the many questions that may come up. The study is only being done at Moffitt Cancer Center at this time, but if the protocol proves to be helpful, researchers hope to replicate the program at other facilities across the country.

A previous study points out the importance of a patient having a caregiver they can count on and trust. A research study conducted in Colorado and Florida looked at why older cancer patients decided to or not to enroll in clinical trials. Researchers found patients often base their care options on if they have a caregiver.

Study authors feel better treatment can be given if the patient has a caregiver and is open to new clinical trials. This research reveals the need for a patient to have a competent caregiver in order to receive overall better treatment.

Darlene Johnson is the Project Manager for the new study. Johnson is passionate about her work because she can personally relate. She was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2004 and has had five surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. Johnson's husband was her caregiver.

Interestingly, Johnson thought he did a fabulous job, but now, her husband admits to her he was very insecure about what he was doing and how a training session and one-on-one time with a nurse would have been helpful.


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