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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

Caring for the caregiver in the emergency department


May 7, 2018, by Paul Cavanagh,

“In the emergency department, the patient receives the bulk of the attention. Physicians spend far less energy probing the caregiver’s experience.”
That’s a quote from Dr. Jay Baruch (associate professor of emergency medicine and director of the Medical Humanities and Bioethics Scholarly Concentration at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island) in an article he wrote for Stat
What makes the article refreshing is Baruch’s critical reflection on how he could be doing a better job of supporting family caregivers who are often near the breaking point. In his early years as an emergency physician, he was angry with families who abandoned their elderly relatives in the emergency department with suitcases packed. Since then, he’s grown to appreciate the desperation that leads some caregivers to take such drastic measures. He takes us through a case study that shows us how he now talks with stressed families while taking into account the daunting tasks that many of them face on a daily basis.
For family caregivers, the article provides insight into how emergency physicians think and behave. For health service providers, it offers an example of how they can reflect on their own practices.
Here’s another article about emergency departments that family caregivers may find useful (previously posted on 
If you’re bringing an older relative to the hospital, it’s helpful to realize that many emergency departments in Ontario have geriatric emergency management (GEM) nurses, nurses with specialized knowledge of health issues faced by older adults. If you’re having a hard time getting your concerns as a caregiver heard, you may want to ask to speak with a GEM nurse. Here’s a sample service listing for St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. 
To find out whether a particular hospital has GEM nurses, simply type “geriatric emergency nurse” into the search box in our Find Services feature. You can do it on your smartphone while in the hospital, if need be.

Have you had your own experiences in the emergency department? Join the discussion in our online caregiving forum.


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thanks for posting this Paul. This article really resonated with me. I am particularly interested in the concept of an assessment tool for caregivers. Does anyone know if something like this is in use in our hospitals or by primary care? The other point in the article which I thought was important is the response of siblings in the hospitals. Siblings need to have these discussions and reach consensus otherwise they may be over-burdened by the expectations of the family for the care of their loved one
I would add that carers need to bring along supplies for themselves, because one never knows how long the stay is going to be. When your spouse is confused, bewildered it becomes very important to be there 24/7 to calm the waters and assist the medical staff. It makes for a better outcome, whether overnight in the emergency department or should it be deemed necessary for admission to the hospital. Just be patient and keep the patient calm. Essentials: Patience, lots of it Reading material Charger for phone Snacks/water Change of underwear Personal Wipes Toothbrush and paste ( for patient and carer) Contact information