National Family Caregivers Month Offers Valuable Support for Caregivers all Year Long

November is National Family Caregivers Month.  Even though it’s now December, it’s still a great opportunity to ensure that caregivers across the country get the recognition and resources they deserve all year long. 43.5 million caregivers—many of whom may be older adults themselves—provide care for someone over the age of 50, and 14.9 million care for someone who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

Caregiving is a full time job, often performed by family members whose responsibilities may also include a career, maintaining a home, parenting teenagers and sometimes helping to raise grandchildren—all in addition to caring for an older, vulnerable parent or other older family member or loved one who needs help with the daily activities of life.

The job of a caregiver can be extremely stressful, and can take a toll on a caregiver’s health, especially if the person being cared for has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In fact, some 50% of people who care for people with cognitive disabilities develop psychological distress.

You can’t be an effective caregiver unless you take care of your own health needs. You’ve probably heard the pre-takeoff speeches flight attendants give, about putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others? It’s the same with your health. Seeing to your own mental and physical well-being helps you to take on the demanding task of taking care of a vulnerable older adult.

Here’s a place to start: The Caregiver Health Self Assessment Questionnaire, which was originally developed and tested by the American Medical Association. This questionnaire can help you look at your own caregiving behavior and health risks. With your healthcare provider’s help, this questionnaire can help you make decisions that may benefit both you and the person you’re providing care for. It may also improve communication and enhance your partnership with your own health provider.

This questionnaire is meant to serve as a guide only. Be sure to speak to your healthcare provider about any concerns you may have about the questionnaire or your results. has many other tools and tips for family caregivers. These resources offer valuable support and advice when you’re caring for a loved one:

2016 Medicare Open Enrollment Is Underway – Don’t Miss Out!

Shah headshotKrupa Shah, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor
University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry

Medicare open enrollment only comes once a year. It is important that you mark your calendar and consider enrolling or reviewing your plans, especially if your needs have changed. Are you fully satisfied with your current medical care? If not, this is the right time to consider your options. Choosing the right healthcare providers, hospitals, and other care settings can make all the difference in your health and satisfaction with life. You can’t stand still, though.

Who is eligible for Medicare?

  • You are eligible if you are:

1) a US citizen 65 years old or older, or

2) a permanent resident of the US for five continuous years and 65 years old or older.

  • Individuals younger than 65 years old can be eligible for Medicare under certain circumstances; the Medicare Eligibility Calculator can help determine if your situation qualifies you for Medicare.

Open enrollment for Medicare runs from October 15th to December 7th.

  • Your demand for health care is constantly changing. It is important for you to review your coverage and see if you need to make any changes to your coverage for the upcoming year.
  • If you are happy with your current coverage, there is no need to do anything.

Continue reading

Social Connectedness: A Key to Healthy Aging

Shah headshotKrupa Shah, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor
University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry

In an average day, Ms. Alvarez interacts with many people.  In the mornings, she frequently walks to a neighborhood café to have coffee with her best friend.  In the afternoons, she likes to go to the local senior center, where her favorite activities are water aerobics classes and playing bridge.  In the evenings, she often calls her daughter to chat, and likes to send emails and pictures to her grandchildren in college.  Ms. Alvarez’s daily life has a lot of social connectedness.

What is social connectedness?

  • A person’s level and quality of contact with other people

Why is social connectedness important?

  • It is key to healthy aging. Studies have shown that older people who have close connections and relationships not only live longer, but also cope better with health conditions and experience less depression. Life transitions can impact the number and quality of people’s social and community networks. For example, friends and family members may move away, which can have a negative impact on someone’s social network. But a transition such as the birth of a new family member can bring positive changes.

What are some of the life circumstances that can affect one’s social connectedness?

  • Changes in health and ability to walk and get around
  • Changes in work status and income
  • Changes in living arrangements
  • Loss of family and friends, particularly a spouse
  • Commuting challenges. When driving is no longer an option, isolation becomes a significant issue, especially in communities where there is little or no public transportation.

Below are some proactive steps you can take to prevent loneliness and stay connected. Continue reading

From Mom to Mama: My Experiences in Long Distance Caregiving

altshul headshotSara Altshul
AGS Staff Writer

My brother Jake and I aren’t especially close in anything except age – we’re just 18 months apart. We share few commonalities, except on matters of décor, fine food, and wine. But on one very important matter, we cooperated and came together in a way we never had before, or in fact, have since – taking care of our mother in her final years.

Beside our vastly different personalities and viewpoints, we had our challenges: it was just the two of us, we lived 150 miles apart, and we both had demanding, full-time jobs. And I was the single mother of two adolescent boys. But we managed. We adopted an oddly supportive and cooperative approach, splitting tasks in ways that worked for us. Together, when the time came that Mom could no longer manage alone, we moved her from Florida to live with Jake on eastern Long Island, and I drove from western New Jersey to help out on weekends. When Mom needed full-time care, we found a good nursing home a few miles from Jake’s house. He visited her daily, and the kids and I continued our weekend visits up until her death several months later.

When I remarried four years after Mom passed, I was delighted to discover that I’d gotten myself a magnificent mother-in-law. She was an energetic 82 when we married, a tiny truly Italian mama of seven whose accent was thick as polenta, despite her many decades living in this country. She cooked, she gardened, she babysat her grandchildren, she kept a keen eye on her Brooklyn neighbors, and she danced the Tarantella at our wedding. Sweeter and more nurturing than my own mother had been, we took to each other the moment we met, and even now, 15 years later, I feel like I got a second chance at being mothered. Continue reading