Those In Care-Giving Roles Need Support Too, Says Texas A&M Researcher

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: May 25, 2010

Timothy Elliott, professor of counseling psychology in the Department of Educational Psychology at Texas A&M University, is part of a task force formed by the American Psychological Association to help psychologists find ways of assessing and addressing the needs of caregivers. The task force will create an online resource called the Family Caregiver Briefcase for Psychologists, which will contain information on treating psychological problems commonly associated with care-giving as well as issues faced by specific groups of caregivers. Caregivers form a diverse group, from adult children looking out for an ill, elderly parent to young spouses caring for a returning veteran with a disability, Elliott describes. "We have this notion that when people are in caregiver roles, it's a function of the community, churches and families to pull together to help them. But that's just not how it works," Elliott says. "It's in the best interests of the health of our communities to find ways to support them." With an aging population, patients living longer - often with chronic illness - and rising health care costs, more Americans are stepping into care-giving roles for elderly, sick or disabled family members. About 50 million Americans provide care each year, with 22 million doing so regularly. "Typically it's a family member who is in a position to provide care in addition to the normal array of work and family activities that must be done," Elliot says. "Caregivers are doing things that in another time and context would have been done by a trained health care professional." But these responsibilities can sometimes exact a toll on the mental and physical health of caregivers, Elliott notes. "In many caregiver scenarios, the caregiver has to learn and administer different programs, ranging from drugs to exercises," he says. "It's not uncommon for these individuals to have problems with anxiety, insomnia and depression." The Family Caregiver Briefcase is one way that Elliott and other psychologists are working to fill this need.