How to Be the Best Caregiver/Care Coach You Can Be (Part Two)

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

Remember my recent blog post about being a terrific caregiver and care coach?  Here are some more tips based on my professional and personal experience.

Remember, Actions Speak Louder Than Words

You may not be an individual’s primary caregiver or care coach. You may just want to show you care. We all have people in our lives we really care about who have received some type of life-threatening or life-impacting diagnosis.  It could be anything from experiencing a hip fracture or a stroke, or a cancer diagnosis requiring treatment or palliative care management (comfort care).

It is hard in these situations to know how to respond and what to do.  Personally, I am a big believer in “actions speak louder than words.”  It never hurts to reach out to someone you care about who is undergoing treatment or who needs help and support coping with a long-term illness or disability.

Never be afraid to just DO or SAY something. Don’t be afraid to let the person know you heard about their illness and wish them well.  Show you care in any and every way.  Don’t hesitate because you are afraid you are intruding on the person’s privacy. If you heard about their illness, it is no secret!

Avoid Useless Gestures

Personally, I recommend against saying things like “let me know if I can do anything” or “call me if there is anything I can do.”  Essentially, when someone is ill they are not likely to pick up the phone and call for help.

Instead of empty gestures, provide words of encouragement that may have helped you in the past. For example, when I first started my course of radiation and chemotherapy, a colleague sent me a quote that Christopher Robin said to Winnie the Pooh:  “Promise me you’ll always remember that you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”  I put this on my desktop and read it daily to help me through my own challenging treatment.  Continue reading

How to Be the Best Caregiver/Care Coach You Can Be (Part One)

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

As someone who is generally the caregiver—professionally and as a woman, mom, wife and daughter—I have had the opportunity to learn recently what is most helpful when being on the receiving end of caregiving. My thoughts combine my professional work as well as the personal experiences I have had with the health care system and with some challenging health care issues.

There is a difference between short-term caregiving events (such as helping someone after a joint replacement, fracture, or cancer treatment), compared to long-term caregiving events (such as caring for someone who has had a major stroke or who has dementia or Parkinson’s disease).  The approaches recommended here can be used for both short- and long-term caregiving.

My most recent thoughts come from going through an extremely aggressive course of radiation and chemotherapy.  In this treatment, the health care team is focused on destroying cancer cells and not necessarily on helping the individual undergoing treatment cope.  Therefore, a caregiver, or what I like to think of as a “care coach” or “care champion,” is essential.  That role generally falls on family, friends, or co-workers.

Based on my experience, here are some ways to be a terrific care coach. Continue reading

Aging and Vision Problems

Alice Pomidor & John Reynolds

Palmer MH high(8) res

Alice Pomidor, MD, MPH, AGSF
Florida State University School of Medicine

Mary Palmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, AGSF
Helen W. and Thomas L. Umphlet Distinguished Professor in Aging
UNC School of Nursing

Your eyes are your windows on the world, so it’s wise to protect your vision, especially as you age. Although not all older adults will experience vision problems, many people will experience age-related changes. While many vision problems are easy to correct with prescription lenses or brighter lighting, other problems require medical treatment. These include:

Cataracts. This age-related vision problem occurs when the lens in one or both of your eyes becomes cloudy. By age 80, more than half of all Americans will either have a cataract or will have had surgery to correct a cataract. Symptoms include dullness, blurriness, or a brownish tint to your vision. As cataracts gradually get worse, vision problems become more noticeable. Although complete healing takes about a month, cataract surgery can immediately and dramatically improve your vision. During the procedure, the surgeon will implant a clear, plastic lens—like a permanent contact lens. Cataract surgery is safe and effective for most people, no matter what their age, health, or mental status. Medicare and most insurance plans cover the costs of the procedure.

Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). The macula is a very small structure within the eye that helps you see fine details. When it begins to degenerate (fail), your central (straight ahead) vision can become distorted. People with ARMD will keep their peripheral (side) vision, and training can help them make the most of their lowered ability to see. There are a number of aids that can help people with ARMD, including magnifying lenses, large print items, speech software for computers, and computer and video enlargement systems. Continue reading

Medication Adherence: A Tough Pill to Swallow

KIM MOON - KimPick1 - webresKimberly Moon, PharmD
Clinical Pharmacist

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan David2

David Dadiomov
Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate
University of Michigan
College of Pharmacy


The number of Americans with chronic medical conditions is increasing, which means that chronic medication use is playing a larger role in their lives. The World Health Organization estimates that 157 million Americans will require medications for at least one chronic disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. Luckily, treatments exist for these diseases that prolong life and improve quality of life as well. Medications can help improve medical conditions when they are taken as prescribed.

Taking medications improperly not only affects people who take these medications, but is also costly for our entire health care system. Medication non-adherence leads to 1/3rd of all medication-related hospitalizations and about $300 billion in avoidable costs. It is clear that medication non-adherence is a huge problem; several common concerns may be responsible for this issue.

“I’m worried about cost”
Cost is an important factor for those that take medications. When people first get placed on medications it is a relatively unexpected cost that they must now budget for. Luckily, many oral medications for management of blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes are available as affordable generic medications. These medications are on the most affordable level of co-payment on most health plans, but even those without insurance may still benefit from pricing at various pharmacies that offer these medications at a low cost. For those who are prescribed expensive medications, most drug manufacturers have patient assistance programs to help with medication costs for those who qualify. Also, taking a long-term perspective is important. The daily cost of most medications is certainly less than the cost of a hospitalization due to a heart attack, stroke, or dialysis due to kidney damage.

“I’m concerned about the side effects”
No drug is without side effects. Luckily, for most people, side effects are minimal and medications are generally well tolerated. Sometimes certain side effects may prevent people from taking their medications as prescribed. Often a pharmacist’s recommendation on medication use or management of side effects can help alleviate concerns. For instance, certain medications should be taken with food, or at a certain time of day. Other medications may have side effects for the first few weeks, but then go away. It is important to ask questions when being prescribed a new medication and calling the pharmacist with questions about the medication or how to take it. Keeping a clear line of communication is important to medication adherence.

“I take too many pills”
Taking several medications is often discouraging for people, and may make it hard to remember to take them at the correct times. A pill box for each day of the week can help manage medications and at the very least, help see how many doses were missed during the week. Many medications are available in a once-daily formulation or even in a combination with another routine medication to reduce the total number of pills taken per day. Again it is important to talk with your prescribing healthcare provider and pharmacist.

“I don’t feel I need my medications”
People with conditions such as high cholesterol don’t have symptoms, so they could feel medications for this condition are not needed. It is important to remember that medications that lower cholesterol are important in reducing the 10-year-risk of developing a heart attack or stroke. People may not “feel” the medicine working, but research studies show taking medications as prescribed can help reduce risk of heart attack or stroke. Remember: Having high blood pressure or diabetes may not always make you feel like there is anything wrong with you, but these diseases can damage your kidneys and lead to kidney disease that may require dialysis.

Questions to ask the pharmacist:

  • How am I supposed to take this medication?
  • What is this medication used for?
  • How does this medication work?
  • What can I expect with this medication?
  • How will I know this medication is working?


Integrating Community Programs in Healthcare: A Personal Experience of Health Professionals Sharing a Lot More than Lunch!

Michael Malone, MD
Professor of Medicine and Section Head of Geriatrics
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
Medical Director

Aurora Senior Services and Aurora at Home

Two years ago, members of Milwaukee’s Aurora Health Care geriatrics program where I work began doing something different for lunch. The geriatrics fellows (who are learning to be experts at caring for older persons with multiple chronic illnesses) started to share meals once a week with the nurses, social workers, and teaching doctors who also work with the patients we serve. The fellows and faculty enjoyed helping each other overcome struggles in providing “best care” for vulnerable older individuals. Over shared meals, physicians started reaching out to social workers and others at the table to get input, feedback, and recommendations. This was particularly helpful, as many of the challenges our doctors have encountered centered on the social aspects of a patient’s needs and where and how to find appropriate support.

Creating a Network to Achieve “Best Care”
Gradually, we started to use these lunches to discuss cases more formally. We would discuss patient needs in five specific areas: 1) medical needs, 2) medications, 3) social needs , 4) psychological needs, and 5) how patients understood and perceived their own illnesses. The in-person discussions have given our physicians, nurses, and social workers a chance to develop working relationships with one another. We’ve all developed a better understanding of programs provided by the ADRC, and our patients are better served as we work together.

Importance of the Older Americans Act
As I reflect on how our clinic serves older individuals in Wisconsin, I’m struck by the importance of integrating community programs into health care. The Older Americans Act (OAA), for example, provides for caregiver support, health promotion, meals, and transportation for vulnerable elders. Our sharing and learning together during lunch has resulted in a better understanding of the whole person (physical, mental, social needs), and how that person supports and is supported by a community shaped in one way or another by initiatives like the OAA. Reauthorizing the OAA represents an important opportunity to help modernize and improve the aging services network to meet the needs of our nation’s older adults.

Among other objectives, the bill aims to address

  • Elder abuse;
  • The importance of evidence-based care;
  • The effective coordination of services at the federal, state, and local levels; and
  • Several other challenges confronting older Americans and their health providers.

These are topics I hope to discuss at lunch with colleagues for many years to come not only because they are important but also because they can be addressed—effectively, reliably, and equitably—through sustained support of the OAA. I’d encourage you to do some digging of your own regarding legislation that supports older Americans—you might be surprised at just how expansive public support for healthy aging has become, but also how vital it will be to ensure this support not only remains constant but also shifts to reflect new realities as more and more of us turn 65.

The Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2015 was approved by the U.S. Senate last week and has now been sent to the House of Representatives for a final vote.  You can help support swift passage of this important legislation by writing to your Representative to encourage her to stand behind the important services that the OAA provides.  Visit the Health in Aging Advocacy Center for more details.

About the Author
Dr. Malone is the Chair of the AGS Public Policy Committee.