The Burden of Caregiving, by Anne Stolarik

Caregiver burden is a term used to describe the impact on those who care for and support a person’s recovery from a health challenge.  At the Heart Institute, we looked at this concept and tried to identify the components of caregiver burden in a cardiac surgery population and what we could do to try to reduce this.  

Our findings surprised us at that time.  It turns out the physical care needs of the patients like assistance with bathing, walking etc. were not seen as stressful events for the caregivers.  The other care needs like providing emotional support, taking over the household tasks the patient was responsible for, monitoring the patients’ condition/symptoms and accessing health care were seen by the caregivers as the most burdensome.  

The Heart Institute has a 24-hour telephone number to the nursing coordinators and patients and families are encouraged to call if they have concerns. The purpose of this phone line is to decrease patient and family worries as they progress through recovery. The coordinators’ responsibility is to triage these calls. intervene as needed and communicate to the surgical team.  So the last element of burden of care, that is, accessing care was addressed to some degree. 

At the time the study was conducted, we were looking at the patient education materials and how we could improve them to meet the needs of patients and families.  This study helped us to improve the content by doing a better job of explaining what was normal after surgery and when and how to seek help.  We rewrote the text of the discharge book so the information was easier to find and clearer for patients and families.  In addition, we changed the format of the discharge classes to address these concerns.  We also started a telephone monitoring program for patients and families during their recovery time.  

Source: Progress in Cardiovascular Nursing, Stolarik et al, June 15, 2007