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Study Spotlights Chronic Pain and Injury Among Informal Caregivers

A new study from The Ohio State University indicates that among the estimated 42.1 million unpaid, informal caregivers who provide support to adults, typically family members with physical disabilities or other conditions that limit daily activity, many experience chronic pain, including shoulder and knee pain, as a result of their physically demanding tasks.

Amy Darragh, PhD, an occupational therapist at Ohio State’s School of Health and Rehabilitation won a pilot grant from the Ohio State Center for Clinical and Translation Science to study caregiver injuries.

“Almost all of the caregivers who participated in our study said they experience significant musculoskeletal discomfort related to caregiving activities, and that this discomfort can interfere with their ability to provide care, work and participate in life activities,” Darragh says in a university news release.

The release notes that Darragh conducted the study alongside Carolyn Sommerich, PhD, and Steve Lavender, PhD, from Ohio State’s departments of Integrated Systems Engineering and Orthopaedics, and Marc Campo, PhD, from the department of Physical Therapy at Mercy College (Dobbs Ferry, NY).

The study was reportedly based upon questionnaires and interviews with 46 informal caregivers. The results suggest that across 4 weeks, 94% of the caregivers indicated that they experienced musculoskeletal pain in at least one body part. The most common sites for discomfort included the lower back (76%), and knees, shoulder, and wrist (43% each). The results also indicate that more than 78% of caregivers reported that the pain impacted their ability to provide care, and 66% advised that the pain impacted their overall quality of life.

During the study, researchers asked caregivers to pinpoint tasks they perceived as the most physically demanding, according to the release. The caregivers spotlighted transfers, toileting, bathing, stair navigation, and recovery from falls as the most difficult tasks to perform.

Darragh points out professional caregivers also report similar experiences, however “they have access to both training and technology that help them reduce their risk of injury. Informal caregivers may not receive training in how to handle patients without injuring themselves or their loved one.”

Darragh adds that the team’s research provides a first look into which specific tasks hold the highest risk of injury and its results may also help direct development of interventions created to protect “high-burden caregivers.”

Additionally, the release states that thanks to the pilot study’s findings and support from a grant from the Cummins Endowment, the team is developing and testing an intervention protocol, designed to be efficient, cost-effective, and flexible. The intervention is also intended to be used across multiple diagnoses and care environments. The team is currently validating the protocol and hopes to test it in a larger population in 2015.

The study appears in the Journal of Applied Gerontology

 Source(s): The Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS), Newswise