Palliative Care to Assist Ill and Aging Family Caregivers

Betty R. Ferrell, PhD, RN


May 08, 2017

Care for Ill and Aging Caregivers

Palliative care should be involved with this couple to assess and assist with the family caregiver needs to best support the patient. Regardless of what treatments George 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 George has expressed some hesitancy about treatment, he needs to receive the treatment that will be in his 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.[1] 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.

It is also not uncommon for those in their 80s and 90s to be caring for their 60- to 70-year-old children. In each case, family caregivers may have equal or worse disease status than the person designated as the patient. Other social factors include a mobile society in which children and grandchildren often live in another state. Smaller families may mean that no one is available to serve as a family caregiver.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[1] Palliative care has much to offer as the lines between "patient" and "caregiver" increasingly blur.


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