Innovators: Dr. Richard Lindsay & Gordon Walker
Position: Project Consultants, Institute for Innovations in Caregiving
VHIN: In your experience, what are the most common challenges family caregivers face? What work is the Institute for Innovations In Caregiving project doing to help alleviate these challenges?
LINDSAY: Caregiver health will become an even more critical issue because the demographic data shows a marked decline in the availability of family and paid caregivers over the next decade. The task of caregiving frequently leads to illness of the caregiver. In my experience, and that of others in the field, the greatest challenge is to decrease the negative effect on the caregivers’ health that result from providing care to a chronically ill family member. There are pervasive effects on caregivers that include physical and emotional health problems, social isolation and the overall negative effect on the quality of the caregiver’s life and well-being. Caregiving is often reported by caregivers to be the number one source of stress in their life. In addition, caregivers experience a serious financial toll—with many of them contributing financially to the health care or other basic needs of their loved ones. They also report an impact on their work since the great majority also work at a paying job while simultaneously caregiving. The caregiving role also has a huge impact on their job performance, a phenomenon entitled “presenteeism”. This is why this topic is so important to employers. If a caregiver ends up not being able work, they will experience lost wages which has a large impact on their retirement planning and savings too.
WALKER: Dick and I considered initial goals for the Institute for Innovations in Caregiving, we decided to focus the Institute’s efforts on finding new and innovative ways to support, maintain and improve the health of all caregivers, with a special emphasis on those involved in the care of Alzheimer’s patients. Our first step toward implementation was to survey the field for solid evidence on caregiver health. We then met with leading state, local and national policy makers, representatives from the Alzheimer’s Association, aging service providers, academic gerontologists and geriatricians and finally academic colleagues in disciplines concerned with aging and health. Their response to our premise to improve caregiver health was overwhelming, and most importantly, they wanted to help. This enthusiastic endorsement of the merits of the Institute for Innovations in Caregiving enabled us to enlist their participation and form a statewide advisory council that is comprised of a remarkable group of talented individuals who are some of the country’s experts in the aging and caregiving fields.