journal review

Informal caregivers require extra support

Primary caregiver may be limited due to illness

Almost 40% of chronically ill older adults in the United States live alone, and a majority of those who are married have spouses with at least one chronic illness that can affect their ability to provide support, according to a study published in Chronic Illness.1

The results underscore the importance of health care professionals directly addressing the roles that family members play in the care of their aging parents or other relatives.

"Family members have the potential to significantly help many patients with chronic illness manage their health conditions," says co-author Ann Marie Rosland, MD, clinical lecturer in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and research investigator for the Center for Clinical Management Research in the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. "However, those family members need more than just information to be successful. We need to teach family members communication skills and provide the tools that they can use to encourage patients to stick to their health regimen."

The study's authors looked at U.S. residents who were age 51 or older with chronic health problems and who participated in the 2006 Health and Retirement Study, a national longitudinal study conducted at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Aging.

Researchers found that 93% of the chronically ill older adults had adult children, but for half of them, the children lived more than 10 miles away. Roughly 19 million older chronically ill Americans have adult children living at a distance.

"Even when a spouse is available, the vast majority struggle with their own chronic medical needs and functional limitations," says John D. Piette, PhD, professor of internal medicine and a senior career scientist with the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. "Fortunately, most of these people had adult children who could be another source of support for their chronic illness care," he says. "But these relationships are increasingly strained as adult children move father away from their parents to seek employment or find a more affordable living situation."

Reference:

1. Piette JD, Rosland AM, Silveira M, et. al. The case for involving adult children outside of the household in the self-management support of older adults with chronic illnesses. Chronic Ill. March 2010; 6:3-6.