When a Doctor Becomes a Caregiver

Quratulain Syed, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics
Emory University School of Medicine

Late last year, I encountered the realities of caregiving personally. Although my father had officially retired, he was still working as a professional banker at the time he was diagnosed with an advanced cancer. I have over 6 years of experience practicing geriatric medicine, where I am used to giving bad news to patients and caregivers, and lecturing caregivers on caregiver stress.  However, none of this had prepared me for the roller coaster ride awaiting me and my family during my father’s illness.

I was lucky to have the privilege of playing the “doctor card” as a caregiver.  I got consultative advice from colleagues and friends whenever I needed it, and had access to medical experts who were beyond supportive and courteous in providing care to my father. Despite all of this, however, my administrative assistant’s comment that “you are falling apart” truly expressed my state of mind. The last six months of my father’s life gave me an in-depth view of the invaluable role of caregivers, who navigate a very complex health care system, often without having a medical background.

In this blog, I’d like to share a few tips from caregivers’ literature, which I found helpful: Continue reading

Study Examines Caregiving by Family Members, Other Unpaid Individuals

JAGS graphicJournal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

It’s estimated that nearly 30 percent of the 38.2 million people aged 65 or older in this country receive some form of caregiving, either for health reasons or to help manage daily activities. More than 65 percent of these older individuals rely on family members, friends, and even neighbors for assistance with things like preparing meals, bathing, taking medications, and getting transportation.

Caregiving is a significant public health topic because it affects the health and well-being of both the older adult and his or her caregivers. Recently, a team of researchers examined the various characteristics of people who serve as unpaid caregivers. They also estimated how many people serve in this capacity. The researchers took note of the health-related tasks the caregivers provided, as well as how caregiving affected care providers. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

National Family Caregivers Month

HealthinAging.org 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.

HealthinAging.org has many other tools and tips for family caregivers. These resources offer valuable support and advice when you’re caring for a loved one: