Studies have shown that family involvement for chronically ill patients such as stroke victims has been associated with better recovery of physical function. But the stress the caregivers experience has been linked to negative psychological and physiological outcomes.
As part of Emory University's Great Teacher Lecture Series, Patricia Clark, PhD, RN, FAHA, assistant professor in the adult and elder health department in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, will address the current caregiver role of the family, the shifting burden of care from the health care system to the family, and the physical and psychological effects the experience may have on the family member providing care and assistance.
The lecture will take place on Thursday, March 25, 7:30 p.m. at the Emory Miller-Ward Alumni House, located at 815 Houston Mill Rd. It is free, open to the public, and does not require reservations. Call (404) 712-9266 for more information.
Family caregivers are often depended upon to help with symptom management, adherence to recommended lifestyle changes, activities of daily living, and providing emotional and social support. Dr. Clark notes previous studies have shown that family involvement or support is associated with better outcomes. But while the emotional and tangible support that a family provides a member with serious illness is substantial, the impact on the family is considerable. And with better treatment of chronic conditions and changing demographics of aging, many families face caring for one or more family members with a chronic illness.
"Family caregivers who perceive themselves as stressed are found to be at higher risk of mortality," Dr. Clark says. "With shorter lengths of stay in acute care and rehabilitation settings, more of the responsibilities with recovery are shifted to the family. It's important to address the needs of family caregivers, as they are the ones who enable the family member to remain in the community."
Dr. Clark's lecture will highlight the caregiver's role in a broad sense, but her program of research focuses on approaches to improve outcomes for family caregivers of older adults with chronic illness, specifically stroke and dementia. Her research includes a multi-site study of family caregivers of stroke survivors examining stroke recovery and caregiver outcomes. "The literature for caregivers has focused primarily on care of persons with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia," Dr. Clark says. "Although caregivers of stroke survivors and persons with Alzheimer's may have similar responsibilities, the illness trajectories differ. For stroke survivors there is the potential for recovery, although the amount and extent of recovery is unknown. In additional to physical function changes, stroke survivors often experience changes in behavior that may vary, making it more difficult to prepare caregivers for these changes."
Dr. Clark also says that studies of outcomes of stroke family caregivers have documented significant depression and fatigue at levels equivalent to caregivers of patients with Alzheimer's disease, and at rates seven times greater than the general population.
Dr. Clark is also an adjunct assistant professor in the Emory University School of Medicine. She is the assistant director of the Pilot/Feasibility Core of the Center for Research on Symptoms, Symptom Interactions and Health Outcomes, and she recently became a fellow in the American Heart Association Council of Cardiovascular Nursing.