Caregivers face a heavy emotional burden, especially family members. It’s hard to watch a loved one suffer while you’re nagged by the constant desire to do more. “The caregiver burden becomes immense,” says Coral Lindahl, a registered nurse who also had to care for her aging father, “You suffer anxiety, depression, and a sense of failure.”

Professional caregivers may be able to walk out the door at the end of a shift, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer similar problems. “In long-term care, nurses and staff tend to develop relationships with residents. They become like family,” says Janelle Miller, who has seen both sides as a family caregiver and nursing professional with over 30 years’ experience. “We often forget about what happens to the [professional] caregiver when residents start dying.”

The hard work of care

The human connection of caregiving makes the emotional strain inescapable. However, adding to this stress is the fact that medical care is a highly specialized job that requires both professional and family caregivers to keep track of tons of information.

For example, caregiving often entails complicated drug protocols. “If I’m going to give you a medication,” says Lindahl, “I better know what it is, what it is being used for, what are the adverse reactions and if there is any other drug that might interact.” Nurses and physicians are required to understand all the implications of administering medications, including contraindications and possible side effects. This consumes a lot of time and can be especially stressful when nurses work long hours in understaffed situations, contributing to burnout and a decreased quality of care. 

“Nurses and physicians are required to understand all the implications of administering medications...”

Information overload can also be a challenge in transitioning home, where family caregivers may lack medical experience. “Most family caregivers are challenged with learning how to manage medications on their own,” says Nicole Brandt, a pharmacist specializing in helping seniors manage complex drug regimens and current president of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists.

Family members also feel stress if their loved one has to transition into a long-term care facility. “How do I manage it long distance?” says Miller. “How do I make sure that things are going okay from miles away?’”

Easing the burden

However, there is hope in filling the communication gap between family and professional caregivers. Recent developments in technology are making the lives of health care workers a lot easier by providing clinical decision support and alleviating staff shortages.

“I rely on my electronic health record (EHR) to make my job more efficient,” says Lindahl, “because we are doing more with less.” EHRs can help maintain care plans by organizing case notes and keeping track of various medications and their interactions. EHRs now put that pertinent information at the caregiver’s fingertips, resulting in a significant decrease in medication errors.

By engaging with facilities and care professionals that use EHRs and are trained in medication management, family members can get the peace of mind that their loved ones are being well taken care of.

“EHRs can help maintain care plans by organizing case notes and keeping track of various medications and their interactions.”

They can also choose facilities with family outreach programs to learn how to care for family members that are ready to go home. This helps reduce stress on both the family and care professionals because everyone is assured that the patient is in capable hands.

There are still ways we can help caregivers stay connected. “We need a bi-directional exchange of real-time information in a friendly interface,” says Brandt, asserting that easy, instant communication between families and medical professionals is likely the future of caregiving technology.

When facilities have the right tools to provide organized care and communication with families, the quality of care goes up, and the transition between the facility and the home becomes much less stressful for everyone involved. The better our systems of communication, the more we can support our caregivers.