The concept of a “healthcare team” is a familiar one to medical practitioners, but who is the missing link? Beyond physicians and nurses, the patient, of course, should be at the center of all decisions. But the team members who may be missing from the roster: family caregivers.
Often the patient’s family member (spouse or adult child) or a close friend, caregivers volunteer their time to look after the well-being of their loved one. Given their time investment and genuine care for the patient, caregivers offer an important insight into the patient’s true health status and ought to be brought to the forefront of the healthcare decision-making process.
The National Center on Caregiving reports that there are “approximately 43.5 million family caregivers who have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months.” Of these, “15% care for two more or adults.”
Beyond the benefits a person living with arthritis receives from a loved one’s day-to-day practical assistance, studies show that social support plays a major role in a person’s health.
A Unique Perspective on Arthritis Presentation
Caregivers can go beyond just supporting their loved ones. They may help patients understand and adhere to their treatment plans. They also may help the person with arthritis keep track of appointments; follow nutritional guidelines; and even manage other aspects of life, such as transportation and budgeting.
At appointments, patients may not be as reliable as their practitioners assume. In fact, a study in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that patients “may minimize or exaggerate symptoms or avoid key clinical issues” when talking to their doctors.
Caregivers, on the other hand, are often keenly aware of the patient’s actual health status. Their familiarity with the patient helps them recognize how the patient is feeling, adhering to treatment plans, and responding to medication. Caregivers often can provide a more accurate source of information because they are motivated to ensure that their loved one’s practitioner has a full picture of the patient’s health status.
Of course, not all patients withhold the truth about their condition during appointments. In those cases, caregivers remain a vital source of support and they can remind their loved one of anything they’ve forgotten to discuss with the healthcare provider.