I was doing some online research recently and came across something in an article about caregivers and Alzheimer’s disease that really struck a chord. The author, Dr. Richard S. Isaacson, states: “When you are treating a patient with Alzheimer’s, you are really treating their entire family.”

We cannot underestimate the influence of friend and family caregivers, who are often included in treatment planning, decision-making, and implementation for both acute and chronic disease. In the category of mental illness, for example, family caregivers influence more than half of all treatment decisions.

Interestingly, physicians believe they provide far more information to caregivers than caregivers believe they receive, according to the American College of Physicians. This deficit presents enormous opportunities for marketers who understand both the sometimes-fragile psyche of caregivers and their emergent needs.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Caregivers experience their own rivers of emotional reactions to a loved one’s diagnosis and prognosis. They must quickly become experts about a disease state, often wading through a sea of unfamiliar medical jargon as they try to process, and then assess, the pros and cons of various treatments. They take on tasks that span diverse realms, including physical, psychological, spiritual, and emotional. Providing them with caregiver-friendly and factual information is merely a point of entry. Influencing their decisions requires tapping into those reservoirs of emotion in ways that make them feel that they are being heard, helped, and understood.

Like today’s patients, caregivers are strong advocates for those they care for. They commonly go online to search for more information about a disease and its treatment, want to know what healthcare providers and other caregivers have to say about treatments physicians are suggesting, and are researching other treatment options. That leaves room for marketers to go to them wherever they may be in the digital ecosystem and navigate them toward their brands.

Caregivers influence a number of decisions throughout the course of a loved one’s illness. They aren’t just influencing treatment choices. They are healthcare partners who are actively incorporating lifestyle changes, promoting healthy behaviors, and ensuring adherence to treatments. This often involves making tremendous personal sacrifices that can tax caregivers emotionally, physically, and financially. Engaging them at the beginning of their journeys and providing tools to help them at stages along the way creates solid bonds with brands that are not easily broken.

The American College of Physicians advocates that physicians should develop both patient-specific and caregiver-specific care plans. That makes a lot of sense for pharma marketers, too.