Giving Compass' Take:

• The healthcare system should make a concerted effort to recognize family caregivers as vital components of a healthcare team.

• State legislation called the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act is one way to address this issue and incorporate family caregivers.  In what ways can donors support family caregivers? Why is it essential for them to feel empowered? 

• Learn more about the necessity to support family caregivers. 

Talking to doctors. Driving to appointments. Administering medication. Helping someone bathe and dress. Family caregivers—about 43 million of them in the United States—do all this and more.

This month is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize the hard work performed by caregivers across the nation, typically for free.  Although we refer to these caregivers as family caregivers to distinguish them from the professional health care workforce, in truth these individuals represent the vital front line of care—but are not always fully integrated into the formal health care team.

Recent shifts in health care practices—shorter hospital stays, increased complexity of disease management, and greater management of chronic illnesses at home—have left family caregivers increasingly responsible for medical tasks. By some reports, almost half of family caregivers performed at least one type of medical or nursing task such as wound care, pain treatment, incontinence care, and handling medical equipment. Many caregivers learn to perform these tasks on their own with little formal training.

Given family caregivers' central role in medical care, there are efforts underway to improve family caregiver integration into the health care team.

For example, state level legislation referred to as the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act provides patients with the ability to record their family caregiver's information on hospital records and require hospitals to consult with caregivers about the timing for a patient to be discharged from the hospital, and provide instructions about medical tasks they will need to handle afterward.

Read the full article about recognizing family caregivers by Patricia Tong and Esther Friedman at RAND.