Having more in-home support services in place could help prevent spousal caregivers from dropping their partners off at the emergency department as a source of respite, a phenomenon known in some medical circles as “pop drop.”
That’s according to a new University of Michigan study in the Aug. 24 edition of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study looked at Medicare-linked data from the biennial Health and Retirement Study (HRS) between 2000 and 2012 for 3,101 married couples aged 65 and older where one spouse acted as a caregiver for their disabled partner.
Researchers found that spouses who were more fatigued while actively caregiving saw higher health care costs and took their spouses to the emergency department over 23% more than their non-fatigued counterparts over the course of six months.
“It’s often from [spousal] caregivers who are totally burned out or overwhelmed, and I think some of it is a desperation for respite services and respite help,” Dr. Claire Ankuda, the study’s lead author, told Home Health Care News. “If you are coming from a place of extreme fatigue and emotional distress, you’re going to be less well-equipped to deal with that at home.”
When a spouse is caregiving while fatigued, their Medicare costs are roughly $8,000 more over the course of a year, Ankuda noted.
“If we’re already spending $8,000 more, maybe we could spend more money supporting caregivers and offset some of those costs,” she adds.
One way to help lessen the burden and take better care of seniors would be more resources for spousal caregivers to avoid burnout. That could mean hiring a professional home health aide or using the Medicare-funded hospice benefit.
Another solution could lie in making more resources available for services to supplement that care, like an around-the-clock support line or a support group geared toward caregiver spouses.
“If we have flexibility around spending, there could be some innovative programs to just help provide 24-hour support, even if it’s just by phone,” Ankuda says.
Written by Tim Regan