Researchers from Northwestern University surveyed 98 paid caregivers recruited from physicians' offices, caregiver agencies, independent living facilities and senior shopping areas to gauge the health literacy of caregivers who serve in a paid capacity for non-family members. To determine the level of health literacy, face-to-face interviews were conducted using The Test for Functional Health Literacy (TOFHLA). Medication aptitude was tested by having participants sort medications into pill boxes by following the directions supplied on the medication bottles. Senior caregivers may make medication errors

More than 60% of participants made errors dispensing the medications into the appropriate containers, indicating difficulties following medication instructions. This finding is significant, because many seniors rely on paid, non-family caregivers for assistance with activities of daily living, which may include medication management. Among the participants, 35.7% were found to have inadequate health literacy, and 85.7% performed health-related tasks, such as medication reminders, sorting or dispensing medications, or accompanying patients to medical appointments.

Seniors who don't reside in assisted living facilities, independent living or nursing homes and don't have family nearby capable of managing their care often hire outside caregivers from home care agencies to help manage their activities of daily living. Dr. Lee Lindquist, lead author of the study, says improper medication administration could result in adverse drug reactions or interactions, which could lead to hospitalization. Lindquist says that in some cases, caregivers are genuinely trying to help their clients by taking on additional health-related tasks, but inadequate eduction could make these circumstances dangerous.

When choosing a home care provider, it's important to check the agency's reputation and request verification that the caregivers employed by the agency have training in medication management and have clear criminal history and background checks. You can learn more about home care in our home care center.

Read a related article on and the abstract from the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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