Care for Ill and Aging Caregivers
Palliative care should be involved to assess and assist with the family caregiver needs to best support the patient. Regardless of what treatments a patient agrees to have, palliative care can address both patient and caregiver quality-of-life concerns. Palliative care can be most effective when instituted early in the course of disease, and although she has expressed some hesitancy about treatment, she needs to receive the treatment that will be in her best interests. Untreated disease may result in worse symptoms and greater caregiver burden.
The aging of the population means that, increasingly, patients with serious complex illnesses will be cared for by family members who have serious complex illnesses of their own. Elderly spouses are the most common caregivers, but it is also common for sons and daughters in their 60s to be caring for parents in their 80s and 90s.
Palliative care has much to offer in situations involving overburdened families and compromised family caregivers. The palliative care philosophy is based on family-centered care, including an assessment of family caregiver needs. The physicians and nurses in this case will be supported by palliative care in managing symptoms, assessing quality-of-life concerns, and assisting in future transitions. Social workers are key to palliative care and are vital for the identification of resources for both patient and family caregiver.
The future of healthcare will be overshadowed by the ever-aging population, occurring at a time when more care is shifting to the home, with family caregivers providing the vast majority of care. Palliative care has much to offer as the lines between “patient” and “caregiver” increasingly blur.