Caring for their own family members creates unique burdens, benefits for geriatric healthcare professionals, study finds

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Healthcare professionals who work with seniors experience complex and at times distressing effects when they also are caregivers for aging family members, according to a recently published study. The research was described as the first of its kind.

Investigators with the public health and medical schools at Boston University conducted individual interviews with 12 nurses, three physicians and one social worker. All were specialists in geriatric healthcare and also were family caregivers.

Assuming this dual role was challenging, involving “external and internal conflicts” and a “ range of emotional struggles,” the researchers discovered. For example, the meshing of personal relationships and professional knowledge was difficult at times.

Some of the caregivers described struggling because they were unable to have the same detachment they have with their usual patients. Some came under intense pressure from other family members, who held them to a high standard due to their professional expertise. This “perceived competence” was not always justified, some interviewees stated.

Navigating the healthcare system also could be fraught, the subjects reported. Their insider knowledge could be an advantage, but some felt “awkward or uneasy about when to use their knowledge and skills,” the researchers wrote.

Burnout was another reported pitfall, as the caregivers went from their jobs to performing the same tasks at home.

While the negative effects of taking on at-home caregiving were numerous, the interviewees also reported many ways in which the experience improved their performance on the job. They reported increased empathy for patients and caregivers, some said hands-on skills were enhanced, and some reported a greater understanding of how the healthcare system operates — for instance, in how transitions of care are handled.

Findings appear in The Gerontologist.

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