Caregivers Could Use Pharmacist Partnerships

Nearly 8 million older adults with significant disabilities receive substantial help from their families and unpaid caregivers for their wide range of health care needs.

Nearly 8 million older adults with significant disabilities receive substantial help from their families and unpaid caregivers for their wide range of health care needs.

New research published in JAMA Internal Medicine investigated the extent to which these caregivers experience a lower quality of life. The study sample represented 14.7 million caregivers, and those providing substantial help (44.1%) were more likely to live with older adults, report loss of work productivity, experience emotional, physical, and financial difficulty, and participate less in valued activities.

“Because the magnitude and scope of assistance provided to disabled older adults by family and unpaid caregivers far exceed those of paid caregivers, and because their involvement persists across both time and settings of care, devising organizational strategies and health care practices to identify and more purposefully engage and support family caregivers merits greater attention by health system stakeholders seeking high-value care,” the authors concluded.

Speaking exclusively with Pharmacy Times, lead study author Jennifer L. Wolff, PhD, of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, explained how pharmacists can help alleviate caregivers’ burden and potentially improve their quality of life.

“Pharmacists should establish strong partnerships [with caregivers, which] may involve getting to know, educate, and partner with the family members who are involved in accessing and administering medication and treatment decisions,” she said.

In particular, Dr. Wolff and her co-authors looked into caregivers who reported that they helped older adults “keep track of medications.” If a caregiver does not properly understand the older patient’s medications, he or she could inadvertently harm the patient, which could lead to feelings of emotional difficulty.

Dr. Wolff said pharmacists should do “anything to simplify [the] regimen,” such as help to organize information from multiple prescribers, reduce unnecessary medications, or clarify questions related to drug-drug or drug-food interactions.

“Better sharing of information is a big issue,” she noted, so pharmacists can play an important role in reducing “avoidable medication errors and adverse events that result from families’ lack of understanding or prescribed medications.”