Role of family caregivers in helping older adults recover from hospital stays

May 18, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Older adults with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are twice as likely to be hospitalized as those who are cognitively healthy. Traditionally, little attention has been paid to helping these patients recover functional independence following discharge. Family caregivers can play an important role in filling this gap.

Funded by a new $2.3 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, researchers in the College of Nursing are testing an intervention that involves family members in the recovery process for individuals with dementia, following their short-term hospitalization for acute medical conditions.

“The societal implications of helping older individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) avoid functional decline are enormous in terms of quality of life, cost and caregiver burden,” said Marie Boltz, associate professor of nursing and principal investigator on the project. “Family caregivers can provide vital information, offer motivation and support, and assume varying degrees of responsibility for delivery and coordination of post-acute care.”

The intervention, known as Family-Centered Function-Focused Care (Fam-FCC), uses an educational empowerment model to promote specialized care to patients with ADRD. In this approach, nurses engage family caregivers in the assessment, decision making, care delivery and evaluation of FCC during hospitalization and 60 days following discharge.

The cluster-randomized trial will involve hospitalized patients with very mild to moderate dementia and their family caregivers — a total of 438 patient/caregiver pairs in three hospitals over a five-year period. Fam-FCC will be evaluated in three ways: (1) effectiveness in improving function and reducing symptoms, (2) impact on family-centered outcomes such as caregiver burden, and (3) cost.

“This study will be a critical next step in delineating how to partner with family caregivers to change acute care approaches to treating patients with ADRD so as to optimize function after discharge and promote delirium abatement and well-being,” said Boltz. “The findings will be relevant for other areas of behavior change research in acute care, specifically those related to engaging patients and families in health care planning, delivery and evaluation.”

Boltz’s research team includes co-investigators Jacqueline Mogle, assistant clinical professor of nursing at Penn State; Rhonda BeLue, associate professor of health policy and administration and biobehavioral health at Penn State; and Douglas Leslie, professor of public health sciences and psychiatry in the Penn State College of Medicine.

Last Updated May 19, 2017