Assumpció González Mestre, Head of Programa Pacient Expert Catalunya® (Expert Patient Programme Catalonia®) and Cuidador Expert Catalunya® (Expert Caregiver Catalonia®) answers questions in an interview with Cari Almazán related to the figure of “expert caregiver”.
The programmes of Pacient Expert Catalunya® and Cuidador Expert Catalunya®, respectively, have the same aim of equipping people with the tools and resources to help them in their daily lives.
This type of learning programme among equals manages to improve the quality of life of people which find themselves in the environment of a disease in the context of chronicity in Catalonia, be it as patients, as caregivers or both things together.
Cari: Who is the Programa Cuidador Expert Catalunya® aimed at?
Assumpció: Our field of action is clearly orientated at the caregivers of people having chronic diseases. By “expert caregiver” we understand them to be a person who takes care of another person with a chronic disease having complex attention needs and who is able to take on that responsibility, give care and acquire the skills that help them manage the physical, emotional and social impact of giving care thereby improving their life quality and that of the person they are taking care of.
Cari: What does turning a caregiver into an expert caregiver involve?
Assumpció: When a person finds themselves in the situation of having to take on the task of taking care of another person with a disease, the life of that person is totally conditioned by the situations, planned or not, foreseen or unforeseen, which the disease might involve. Helping a person in that critical moment often generates a change in the life of the person giving care and it becomes an emotional overload in their daily lives as a result of having to address the needs of the person they are taking care of. In this sense, having more capacity to take on responsibility and being able to take care of themselves and of the other person, on the one hand, and of acquiring skills that help them manage the physical, emotional and social impact which we know this situation involves, on the other, are some of the key aspects that we would consider as essential when identifying a possible expert caregiver.
Cari: Is being able to improve the quality of life of caregivers the aim of the programme?
Assumpció: It is one of the main aims although there are others. Giving support to caregivers in the management and care of the person they are taking care of; improving the life of caregivers; being able to involve and satisfy patients and caregivers; improving the efficacy of caregivers in their own care and in the care of the person they are taking care of; learning to identify the degree of overload on caregivers; and having an influence on aspects of the health of a caregiver related to giving care, are the six specific aims of the Programa Cuidador Expert Catalunya®.
Cari: Should all caregivers become expert caregivers?
Assumpció: The end goal is not that everyone becomes an expert but rather that they become aware of what it means to be a caregiver and to learn to identify when they find themselves overloaded and that, therefore, they need to ask for help from another person of the family or from a professional to be able to deal with the situation which they find themselves in. If caregivers become aware of this situation and ask for support at the appropriate time, they will be able to give care and take care of themselves better. Therefore, the expert caregiver is a volunteer with the capacity to take care of themselves without psychophysical disabilities and who can empathise, be interested in helping, be highly motivated and have strong communicative skills. These elements are assessed in an individual interview and after completing specific questionnaires.
Cari: Perhaps it is not always easy to put oneself in someone else’s shoes…
Assumpció: One of the fundamental aspects of this initiative and one which makes it different is that the expert caregiver experiences caregiving first hand which places them in a privileged position when talking to other people who are going through similar experiences.
Cari: What role does the health professional play in relation to the expert caregiver?
Assumpció: The health professional (doctor, nurse or social worker) takes on the role of observer, who can step in to redirect the session, but only when necessary. The Cuidador Expert Catalunya® programme helps both people to closely collaborate with each other having the same aim: to improve the quality of life of the patient, the caregiver and their environment.
Cari: What are the basics of the programme in terms of content and who developed them?
Assumpció: The specific educational materials and methodological guide are the result of the participation of a lot of expert health professionals from different disciplines. These contents have later been validated with the participation of caregivers. The idea is to get to people and so an appropriate language for everyone is needed.
Cari: How has the Cuidador Expert Catalunya® programme been implemented?
Assumpció: The process of implementation in a care team involves different stages which include the presentation of the programme to professionals, the selection of caregivers, the training of professionals and caregivers, the setting up of the group of caregivers and the start of sessions.
Cari: In summary therefore… what it is about, in the end, is to organise sessions?
Assumpció: Not exactly. It is about sharing knowledge and experiences among caregivers through 9 structured sessions where they approach and deal with a different subject each day looking for the tools that aid them to take care of themselves.
Cari: How is the Cuidador Expert Catalunya® programme assessed?
Assumpció: It is assessed quantitatively and qualitatively by measuring the knowledge gained, the degree of self-care, quality of life, self-reported problems, the degree of overload, the degree of satisfaction and the use of services. The results between the start and end of the intervention are compared and then again 6 and 12 months after it has ended.
Cari: What is the key element of the project?
Assumpció: Without a shadow of a doubt, learning among equals and the relational network. Throughout the experience acquired during the implementation of the programme, we have had the opportunity to confirm that the fact that the programme takes place in one neighbourhood or community is very positive. The relational network between the people that participate in the different groups makes it possible for the expert caregiver to become an agent in the community. The programme becomes a community activity of learning among equals.