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

A Daily Loss: How to Help Someone with Alzheimer’s Cope with Loss

Written by Michael Longsdon
Creator of ElderFreedom.net

It’s hard enough to have to tell your mother or grandmother that her spouse has passed away. It’s another thing entirely when she has Alzheimer’s and you need to repeat this news often – maybe daily or even several times a day. With Alzheimer’s, every day is different, and every moment is unpredictable. The grief of losing a life partner, especially if that person was the primary caregiver, can be extremely distressing for a person with Alzheimer’s.

It’s going to be excruciating watching their grief happen over and over. With Alzheimer’s, both short-term and long-term memory can be affected. A person with Alzheimer’s might not be able to remember that her husband recently died, but she might also ask about people who died much earlier in her life, from days long before dementia set in. In addition, Alzheimer’s can affect behaviors and the person may have trouble using a fork, sleeping, or controlling their impulses. When their spouse passes away, they might not remember or they might become deeply distressed when they do. Here are a few ways you can help them cope: Continue reading

Cleaning (as if someone else might have to)

Nancy Lundebjerg resizedNancy E. Lundebjerg, MPA
Chief Executive Officer
American Geriatrics Society

It started with the shoes in the corner of the bedroom—and it continued through three closets, two dressers, a huge chest in my living room, a small filing cabinet, the front hall closet, and even the desk in my office at work. Some might call this spring cleaning but, for me, it’s more episodic and usually sparked by something like being annoyed enough by the pile of shoes in the corner to find them a home.

As always happens during one of these all too rare bouts of purging, I think about the family cleaning events I’ve been part of as parents, aunts, and grandparents moved on. I was having dinner with a few friends last week and we were swapping our caregiver cleaning stories. I found that my late father’s desire to hold on to his power tools was matched by my friend’s father’s desire to bring them all with him to his new assisted living facility. I somehow ended up with a drill, hammer, and a ruler from my dad. The hammer is spattered with paint and the head may be a little loose but I think of my dad every time I use it and could not imagine purchasing a shiny new one. The ruler is an artifact in my curio cabinet – along with the rotary phone from my parent’s bedroom. They’re Items with no current purpose…and they make me smile.

I also spent several years as my aunt’s primary caregiver. Moving her out of her apartment was easier but still no less daunting. I had reached the point where I couldn’t maintain her at home given her advanced dementia, and so I undertook the hunt for a quality nursing home that she could afford and that would take her (Sidenote: “Would take her” is a thing…and a thing for an entirely different blog post!). Having found one, there came the task of cleaning out her apartment. My sister, niece, and I found that she had a closet filled with lightbulbs ordered from some charity (beware the telemarketer and your older loved one). There were bricks in that closet—from where and for what we still do not know. She also had a cedar chest (made by my grandfather) filled with old ConEd bills.

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

Recovering after Surgery: Perspectives from a Patient and Healthcare Professional (Part Two)

Barb Resnick HeadshotBarbara Resnick, PhD, CRNP
Professor
Sonya Ziporkin Gershowitz Chair in Gerontology
University of Maryland School of Nursing

Introduction

This is the latest in a series of blog posts by Barbara Resnick, PhD, CRNP, written from her perspective as both a healthcare professional and as a patient during the course of intensive treatment for esophageal cancer.  This two-part article was written about two months following her surgery. Part One discusses the importance of preparing for going home throughout the course of a hospital stay following surgery.  Part Two addresses managing ongoing recovery at home.  These blog posts will be helpful to older adults undergoing surgery and their families, as well as to hospital administrators and healthcare providers.

Part Two: Healing, Getting Stronger, Eating and Sleeping Better – Trial and Error and a Pinch of Patience

Because everyone’s recovery from surgery is different, your healthcare team can only give you basic information and guidance based on what they see and hear from other patients. Knowing what to expect in terms of wound healing, fatigue following surgery, physical activity, and eating and sleeping—all things which are essential to the healing process—is where trial and error and waiting may come into play.

Wound healing takes time. You can aid the health process by getting enough protein and calories, treating any anemia you might have, and keeping the wound and the surrounding area clean. These are all things that you can do with the help of a caregiver. Protein intake should ideally include 30 grams of protein with each meal for an average size adult male and less for a smaller female (30 grams includes a piece of meat, chicken, or fish the size of your fist, or several eggs). If you continue to feel unusually tired at home, tell your healthcare provider. They may do a blood test to check for anemia (an insufficient number of red blood cells, sometimes called “iron-poor blood”). If you have some anemia, your provider may have you take an iron supplement. Eating iron-rich foods is always a good idea when healing. Try dark leafy greens, dried fruit, beans, enriched breads and cereals, meat, eggs, and some fish. Keeping your wound clean with soap and water and showering as soon as you are able to will also help with healing. Then sit back and let the healing take place! Continue reading