FYI Daily

Importance of Family Caregivers

Last updated: Dec 26, 2012


The words "caregiver" and "unsung hero" go together in countless ways -- not least, their role in healthcare. A new report from the Family Caregiver Alliance calls caregivers "essential" in helping their loved ones transition from one care setting to another, such as from hospital to home or rehab facility.

One of the biggest problems, says the report, is how undervalued caregivers are in smoothing transitions and improving communications. Many transitional-care programs don't actively engage family members, for example. Yet there's growing evidence that people have better outcomes when a hands-on caregiver is involved.

Hospital discharge can be a fraught time. Among the risks to frail older adults during these transitions, according to the report:

  • Medication errors

  • Unnecessary duplicative tests

  • Lack of coordination between services and providers

  • Poor communication among professionals across settings

  • Problems in the timeliness of care

  • Lack of access to vital home- and community-based services.

Too often, poor transitional care results in repeated hospital readmittance.

Some things family caregivers can do to assert themselves into the process:

  • Work with the hospital team to identify the goals for care. This is true both in the hospital and for after discharge.

  • Ask questions. Use this checklist of questions to ask at discharge.

  • Make sure you're assessed and educated. Good transition care depends on the right home environment, which can be assessed by a professional. It also depends on knowing how to do certain tasks, for which you can be trained, including knowing what red flags to watch out for.

  • Take part in discharge planning. Your role in planning can help ensure a safe transition from the hospital. This includes being part of medication management decisions and being part of the decision-making process about the best venue for the transition. Your loved one might do better if discharged from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility, for example, rather than being discharged from hospital to home care.

  • Protest if you feel the discharge is being made too early. Too-early hospital discharge can be dangerous. Know what to do if you're not ready for hospital discharge. You also have a right to speak out if there's something you feel unsure of, or to appeal on Medicare-based decisions.