California’s senior population is expected to grow by four million people through 2030 and many of these seniors rely on a family caregiver for assistance as they age. Family caregivers provide physical and emotional support to seniors, often allowing individuals to remain in their home and community. The valuable services provided by family caregivers to seniors was estimated at approximately $234 billion in 2011, demonstrating the enormous economic impact of this vital workforce whose goal is to help seniors remain in their homes and maintain independence while preserving dignity.1
Family caregivers are spouses, children, relatives, friends, partners, neighbors, or anyone else who provides unpaid care to a senior. Caregiving duties can range from household tasks and self-care to managing more difficult medical tasks such as medication management and navigating the health system for a senior.1 Often, family caregivers are performing these duties with limited training, education and resources which can add to their emotional burden.1 Caring for a senior with functional and/or cognitive decline can be overwhelming and negatively impacts both the emotional and physical health of caregivers.1 Programs that offer counseling, support, education and respite have been shown to reduce caregiver burden and expansion of these programs within the community and health system should be considered.
Through a combination of applied medical research, supportive policy, effective advocacy and outcomes-based philanthropy, West Health is working to create and foster new integrated care models that improve health outcomes and better address both the medical and non-medical needs of seniors and their families. The West Health Institute, West Health Policy Center and Gary and Mary West Foundation all work together under the umbrella of West Health with a shared mission to enable successful aging for our nation’s seniors. Among other research initiatives, West Health is working to advance solutions that improve care transitions, produce better patient outcomes and increase efficiency to help enable older adults living with chronic conditions, and their caregivers, to receive care on their own terms in the setting of their choosing.
Research into Educating Providers to Acknowledge, Recognize and Support the Family Caregiver
West Health Institute has partnered with the Center to Advanced Palliative Care at Mount Sinai to develop a new series of online courses with associated content including an operational toolkit, expert advice, and webinars. These online courses build on existing course content and will help all health care professionals talk with patients and their caregivers about dementia. All six courses will be available by early 2019 and include topics such as “Discussing Your Patient’s Dementia Diagnosis” and “Communicating About What to Expect as Dementia Progresses.” Not only will these courses support all health care professionals, but also reduce suffering for patients, prepare families and caregivers for what to expect as dementia progresses, and address gaps in care that lead to unnecessary hospital utilization.
Supporting Family Caregivers of Seniors with Serious Illness
The West Health Institute has committed to advancing medical models that provide quality care to seniors with serious illness including home-based primary care and home-based palliative care. These models deliver medical care in the home to vulnerable seniors with multiple functional limitations and provide comprehensive care that includes shared decision making and caregiver education and support. The Institute recognizes that family caregivers are critical for the success of delivering primary and palliative care at home and, accordingly, we incorporate family caregiver support into our research projects.
1. https://www.johnahartford.org/images/uploads/reports/Family_ Caregiving_Report_National_Academy_of_Medicine_IOM.pdf.
2. Family Caregiver Alliance. Caregiver Statistics: Demographics. https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-statistics-demographics.
4. https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/abs/10.1377/hlthaff.2013.1257 .