Time travel, both backward and forward, continues to be a favorite theme in popular culture. If we could travel back just 60 years or so, we would see a vastly different health care system, one geared to provide acute care, not chronic care, and one offering what today would be seen as rudimentary treatments. No one in 2012 would expect a surgeon to use techniques from that era or a doctor to prescribe medications long surpassed by more effective drugs. Yet one important area of health care and long-term care services and supports clings to outmoded terms and measures.
Welcome to the hidden world of family caregivers — broadly defined as the spouses, adult children, other family members, partners, friends and neighbors who provide or manage most of the care of the growing number of noninstitutionalized people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. As our recently released AARP Public Policy Institute and United Hospital Fund report (available here and here) puts it:
Family caregivers have traditionally provided assistance with bathing, dressing, eating, and household tasks such as shopping and managing finances. While these remain critically important to the well-being of care recipients, the role of family caregivers has dramatically expanded to include performing medical/nursing tasks of the kind and complexity once provided only in hospitals.
These tasks include managing multiple medications, not just pills but injections and infusions; wound care; operating medical equipment like feeding tubes, dialysis machines, and mechanical ventilators; and using electronic monitors and other devices.
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