A study investigating “pop drops” suggests that older disabled patients with tired and stressed-out caregivers may have a tendency to visit the emergency department (ED) more often and, as a result, may have higher Medicare bills.

“Pop drop” is the term used by emergency department staff to describe a disabled older person who comes in for medical attention.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Michigan, appears in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, and includes 3,101 couples over the age of 65, each with one spouse acting as a caregiver for their disabled partner.

In the study, the researchers looked at the Medicare payments and emergency department visits for the disabled spouses in the 6 months after the caregiver spouses took standard tests to measure their fatigue, mood, sleep habits, health, and happiness.

In that 6-month time period, emergency department visits were 23% higher among patients whose caregivers had scored high for fatigue or low on their own health status. In addition, patients with fatigued or sad caregivers had higher Medicare costs: $1,900 more if the caregiver scored high for fatigue, and $1,300 more if the caregiver scored high for sadness, even after all other factors were taken into account, explains a media release from Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan.

“Many of us who work in clinical settings feel that patients with high home caregiving needs, such as dementia, often rely on the medical system as a source of respite for their spouses or other caregivers, because other respite isn’t paid for,” says lead author Claire Ankuda, MD, MPH, in the release.

“But there hasn’t been a lot of data about it, and only recently has our society been talking about caregivers and potential ways to incentivize and support them as a way of keeping patients living at home,” adds Ankuda, who led the study during her time at the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program at University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

Senior author Deborah Levine, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of internal medicine and neurology at University of Michigan, concurs.

“Informal caregivers, including spouses, enable older adults with functional disability to stay out of the nursing home and live at home where they’d prefer to be. Our findings suggest that we need to do a better job of identifying and supporting caregivers experiencing distress, in order to help caregivers feel better and hopefully improve outcomes in older adults with disability,” she states.

[Source(s): Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan, Newswise]