In 2017, experts predict more people than ever before will take on the responsibility of helping care for an aging loved one.  As the number of family caregivers increase across America, attention on the challenges of Family Caregiving is gaining momentum.  The realities of caring for an older adult and what this role entails is eye opening for most.  Many loved ones live miles apart from the person they are helping care for making coordination and supervision of care a challenge.  In addition, most family members expect to balance elder caregiving with other family responsibilities such as working full time and raise children, the realities of which are usually starkly different.  The hurdles family members face as they enter into the caregiving realm are multiple and include working with healthcare providers to manage long term health concerns, interpretation of government regulations, and decoding of insurance jargon, just to name a few so it’s not hard to see why the topic is gaining momentum.

As families struggle to provide care, public and private agencies have come together to support a variety of initiatives designed to help family caregivers.  AARP, who helped draft the initial Care Act legislation plans to continue its support for passage of the legislation in all 50 states.  Although the specifics are different in each state, The Care Act essentially mandates that all adult patients in hospitals be given the opportunity to designate a caregiver.  Once part of the medical record, the caregiver must be contacted prior to discharge and, if nursing tasks are required as part of the discharge plan, the hospital team must consult with the caregiver and provide a demonstration of the tasks prior to discharge.  Those in support of the legislation believe that having a designated caregiver identified in the medical record will help insure that family caregivers are included in care plan and discharge discussions thereby improving transitions and reducing readmissions relating to non-compliance with care plan instructions.

Through their work on the Home Alone Alliance, the United Hospital Fund (UHF) recently authored “It All Falls on Me” an AARP Spotlight paper outlining some of the specific challenges faced by family caregivers.  The paper provides guidance to healthcare providers on the Do’s and Don’ts when helping family caregivers and highlights a series of educational videos designed to help teach family caregivers skills such as medication management and wound care.  In 2017 the UHF plans to continue its work with AARP and hopes to author additional guidelines and instructional videos for family caregivers.

Another significant partnership aimed at improving care to older persons with complex needs, five foundations, the Commonwealth Fund, the John A. Hartford Foundation, Peterson Center on Healthcare, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,  and The SCAN Foundation have joined together to create the “Better Care Playbook”.  The playbook is incorporated into a user friendly website that provides a series of resources promoting person centered care and training of designated care providers, including family caregivers.  The need for healthcare providers to properly assess the family caregiver’s capacity to provide supportive care to the chronically ill person is also addressed.

Finally, in a report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Families Caring for an Aging America, experts in the fields of aging and public policy summarized their take on the issue of family caregiving and outlined needed improvements to policy.  The committee concluded an urgent need to create and implement a National Family Caregiver Strategy so providers can better identify, support and engage family caregivers.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Reynolds Institute on Aging plans for 2017 include: continued engagement with national, state and local stakeholders to increase attention on the issues important to older adults and family caregivers, continuation of family caregiver workshops and certified training for paraprofessional and healthcare providers caring for older adults in the home, and advisement and consultation to employers in regards to policy changes that support patient and family centered care in the home.