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Study looks at nurse support to caregivers

Taking care of an elderly loved one can be draining on a person. While there are home health care professionals who can help with the daily tasks, if a senior relative is suddenly faced with a grim prognosis, it can be hard on the caregiver.

According to nursing researchers out of Penn State, family caregivers to terminally ill patients may not only receive assistance from nurses during the patient’s illness, but also following his or her death. The study’s authors are hoping to determine the caregiver’s needs so they, too, can receive support from nurses.

“What we know is that the caregiver’s primary contact with the health care system is during brief office visits [for the patient],” said Janice L. Penrod, professor of nursing and director of the Center for Nursing Research. “Our goal is to develop an assessment that is fast and efficient to give us a snapshot of that caregiver so that we can at least identify needs, and if not intervene during that brief office visit, give them information and a referral to help them smooth the course.”

Symptoms caregivers face after a death

The researchers looked at the four stages of grief that caregivers go through before they make peace with the fact that a relative has passed. Penrod suggested that sensing disruption, challenging normal, building a new normal and reinventing normal were all part of the process, the last of which is the grieving period.

“In order to intervene, we have to have a theoretical base,” said Penrod. “And understand the red flags and the cues to understand when a caregiver is approaching a state of distress so that we can intervene in a timely fashion.”

Penrod and her team noted that dealing with the death of a loved one isn’t something that’s gone through step by step, but instead is uneven, and as they describe, like a roller coaster. The researchers said nurses can help caregivers during this uneasy time.

Caregivers should take care of their stress too

According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s important that caregivers take time to look after themselves as well even when a loved one is gravely ill. The news provider suggests that caregivers should accept help when offered, whether by an elderly care professional, a nurse or a friend. Additionally, they should reach out to support groups so they can talk to other caregivers about their experiences, making them feel less alone.

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