Pace nursing student speaking with a patient

Caregiver Burden

Caregiving can be challenging work whether for a formal (paid) caregiver such as a healthcare provider or an informal (unpaid) caregiver such as a family member. In a report published in 2015 by Health Services Research, the estimated cost of lost work time for informal caregivers for the elderly was $522 billion annually.

Caregiving can also have an enormous impact on the health and quality of life of both the patient and the caregiver. When compared to non-caregivers, informal caregivers may experience the same psychological, behavioral and physiologic effects of those with coronary heart disease and autoimmune disease. Caregiving has also been found to be an independent risk factor for mortality.

Formal caregivers are not immune to the deleterious health effects of prolonged caregiving. Compassion fatigue resulting from the cumulative losses of patients can contribute to an inability to provide compassionate care, decreased quality of patient care and decisions to leave the workplace.

In palliative care, the unit of care is considered to be the patient and family as defined by the patient. Maintaining awareness and managing the symptom burden of patients and the burden of caregiving for both informal caregivers such as family members and formal caregivers such as the healthcare providers on the team as well as ourselves is essential. There are many different validated tools available to measure caregiver burden such as the Zarit Burden Interview and the Caregiver Strain Index as well as guidelines for supporting caregivers. For further information about how to manage this very important area of care, consult evidence-based guidelines.

Additional Resources

Clinical Practice Guidelines


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