Training Family Caregivers: Why It’s Crucial

Training Family Caregivers: Why It’s Crucial

All too often, family caregivers are trying to keep their heads above water. When their loved ones began to decline – whether it was gradually or quickly – many were tossed into the deep end of the pool with little guidance and even less of a safety net, simply expected to handle things for their loved ones that they were never trained to do or prepared for.

Imagine, for instance, that the person you are caring for suffers a serious fall. The result is a head injury that turns into a brain bleed. Though you got them to the hospital as fast as you could – maybe by turning to an emergency alert system in the moment right after the fall – they wind up in the intensive care unit for a while. Then they go home with new challenges. They have dizziness and vertigo, so they can’t really get around well. They are more forgetful than usual. Because of the very high risk of falls, they have to be watched constantly. Though the doctor assures you it’s from the brain injury and your loved one will get better with time, that reassurance doesn’t make life easier right now.

In fact, you might feel as though your parent was discharged from the hospital with a smile and a “good luck” and that was it. You were thrown into the deep end and expected to figure out how to swim.

Caregivers Need Training

Scenarios like this happen every day and underscore the serious need for training for caregivers. Training is a common thing for every job, even those that don’t have the health or quality of life of a person at stake. If there was ever a job that should come with strong levels of training and support, it’s that of family caregiver.

The jobs that home health aides do require a certain number of hours of training, where they learn everything from how to help a person dress to turning them in bed to properly dispensing medications. In most states, they must earn their certification through accumulating a number of hours of practice as well as passing a test.

But although a family caregiver often does all the same things that a home health aide does and even more, there are no widespread training options for them.

The Family Caregiver Alliance has found that about 60% of family caregivers assist or perform significant medical tasks, including tube feedings, injections, and changing catheters for their loved one. But fewer than 30% of those individuals have conversations with health care professionals about how to do these tasks. And a report in JAMA Internal Medicine found that only 7% of family caregivers for the elderly have any formal care training.

However, that might change soon thanks to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. This organization has proposed making Medicare payments to health care professionals to train informal or family caregivers in managing medications, assisting with the activities of daily life, and using certain types of medical equipment.1

Right now, family caregivers might get lucky – they might have a caring physician or nurse teach them what they need to know about giving more advanced care. But that is not mandated, and busy medical professionals can’t spend the time to teach everyone how to care for their loved ones at home. But even some home health aides aren’t trained in the use of a variety of medical equipment, such as feeding tubes – what they are trained or allowed to do varies from one state to the next. So many caregivers find themselves turning to other sources, such as online videos and message boards, to show them what to do.

That is not only frustrating for the caregiver, but potentially dangerous for their loved one. Online videos are never a good substitute for hands-on, professional training.

How You Can Help

You can actually help with the issue. The CMS has asked for public comments on the proposal, especially concerning who should be considered a family caregiver. This will help them determine who might receive training and how often that training will be given. You can leave a comment for CMS until 5 pm eastern time on September 11, 2023. Go here to do that.

If all goes well, training for caregivers could begin as early as 2024.

Who gets the training is still up in the air. Since so many different individuals can provide care, it makes sense that the training is open to more than one person in the family. Some advocates have pointed out that a family might pay an informal caregiver to step in and help with their loved one; those people need training too, so being unpaid should not be a requirement to get the proper training.

The frequency is also a concern, as the training needed depends upon the situation. Getting training for basic wound care might require only one session with a healthcare provider. But training for ongoing conditions, such as dementia, might require more than one session as the condition progresses and needs change.

It’s also important to have the option of training at home rather than in a healthcare facility. That’s because many individuals are housebound due to certain conditions but they still need the high-quality care that can come from training a family caregiver to perform the tasks. Hands-on training in the home setting allows for variations in a person’s condition as well; for instance, simply learning the easiest way to turn someone over in bed might depend upon the bed itself. There’s no way to know that difference unless you are training at home.

This training would affect millions of Americans. According to the 2020 Caregiving in the U.S. Report, 42 million Americans were providing care for someone aged 50 or older in 2020.But keep in mind that while those 42 million might be eligible for this training, it also benefits at least another 42 million – the people who are receiving the care. That’s an enormous chunk of the population who can experience an improved quality of life.

What to Do In the Meantime

Caregiving isn’t an easy job for anyone. Here are a few tips to make it easier:

·        Get peace of mind. From installing aging in place home modifications to choosing affordable medical alert systems for seniors, it’s often the little things that give you big relief. Don’t hesitate to reach out for the tools and support that make life easier.

·        Gather your “squad” around you. Create a list of people who can help you out day-to-day, a list of those who can come to your aid in an emergency, and even a list of those you can simply call and talk to when things get rough.

·        Look for training through the places that offer it right now. For instance, the American Red Cross offers numerous classes on CPR. Places like the American Caregiver Association offer online classes that help you get started with the basics.

·        Take good care of your own health. Many caregivers are prone to burnout. Protect your physical health by getting enough exercise and sleep, eating a healthy diet, and taking the time to breathe. Protect your mental and emotional health by talking to friends and family or even reaching out to a professional counselor. It might also be a good idea to consider a personal emergency button alarm, or fall alert for your loved one. This enables them to reach out for help 24/7 if you are not available for any reason and they fall and can’t get up or have any other emergency.

·        Turn to home health professionals. If you are facing a situation where you need to learn to do something but you don’t know where to go to do so, consider hiring a home health nurse for a short period of time. Though it might be expensive, you could also get enough training that you can handle certain things yourself in the future, thus saving you money in the long run. But before you do this, check with your state on their requirements and regulations for home health nurses; they might not be able to provide you with any sort of formal training, per state rules.

·        Speak to your loved one’s doctor. There could be local resources, classes, and clinics designed specifically for caregivers. At the very least, there are likely online and in-person support groups where you can bounce ideas off each other and get advice on how to handle the difficulties of caregiving. Now is the time to take help anywhere you can get it.

Finally, be ready for the final decision by CMS on training for caregivers. It’s a proposal that has been a long time in coming and now that so many Americans are caregivers, it makes sense to provide them with the support and resources they need to continue doing the good work they provide for their loved ones. Alert1 wishes all caregivers and their loved ones the very best in health and safety.