Family Caregivers: Perfect Solution or Risky Business?

If your senior loved one needs help at home, you might be wondering, “What could be better than a family caregiver?” After all, your senior may already know and be familiar with them, and it’s often easier to assign family members roles that require trust, as opposed to doing the same with a stranger. When I worked at a sub-acute rehab facility, patients often returned home with short-term help from loving friends and family, and were often the better for it.

But when your senior needs daily, long-term care at home, you may want to think twice about having a family member take this on. Ultimately, it’s up to your and your senior (if they have decision-making capabilities), but there are several drawbacks that may give you pause.

hands holding
Family caregivers mean well, but that may not be enough to protect your senior.
Image credit: Flickr user Sam Caplat

Family caregivers are not medical professionals

One of the most salient reasons family caregivers are a risky business is because they are not medical professionals. No matter how much they love your senior, they may simply be unprepared to administer the necessary medical care patients are sure to need. If they don’t know the way to properly dress a wound, infection can set in. If they’re unaware of how and when to administer insulin, it can lead to diabetic shock or even a coma. I say these things not to frighten you, but to simply help you understand the disturbing possibilities that can result.

One long-term care resident on my ward wanted very badly to live at home. She was capable of making her own decisions, and said family members would take care of her. The family members agreed, and although we warned that she needed extensive, round-the-clock care, we reluctantly discharged the resident to her preferred setting. In less than twenty-four hours, she was back in the hospital and on her way to our nursing home once again. Her family simply did not have the ability to care for her the way she needed.

Family caregivers come with their own costs

One perceived benefit of having family caregivers is that they often charge lower rates than professionals – or are willing to work for no money at all. As much as I applaud a family member or close friend’s willingness to help out, this can backfire terribly. Professionals charge the rates they do for a reason – they possess knowledge, skills, experience, and training that family caregivers are not likely to have. What happens if the senior in question needs emergency medical services, or their condition starts deteriorating quickly? No matter how well-meaning an untrained person may be, this situation could easily spell disaster.

Think long and hard about caretaking decisions

To be honest, the only way I could really see a family caregiver situation potentially working out is if the caregiver is also a licensed RN (Registered Nurse), LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse), CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant), or something similar. If not, in my professional opinion, it’s usually a better idea to hire someone qualified to handle your senior’s care needs – no matter what they may be.

If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.

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