Podcast Guest Shares Her Story on the Challenges, Joys of Caregiving
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AMDA On-The-Go podcast host Wayne Saltsman, MD, PhD, CMD, started a recent program with a powerful story. He recalled that as co-leader of an Alzheimer’s support group years ago, he met someone who made a lasting impact on him. He said, “At one session, there was a new face—a slightly pale and spiritually and physically fatigued-appearing older gentleman who volunteered his story about providing care to his wife at home. His dedication to his ‘oath’ of 62 years was overwhelming, and the depth of his commitment to his wife left all in the group speechless.” In a private moment, Dr. Saltsman asked the man, “How much more can you take?’ The man responded, “She’s my wife.”
That was the beginning of a thought-provoking and informative program on Gerontology and Caregiving with guest Julie Masters, PhD, the Terry Haney chair of gerontology and professor and chair of the Department of Gerontology at the University of Nebraska.
Dr. Saltsman’s story resonated with Dr. Masters, who was a caregiver to her father. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008 and passed away in 2009. Even though she had studied aging and caregiving issues, she said, being a caregiver gave her an appreciation of the people she had been working with and studying for years. “I learned that caregiving can be challenging and stressful, but there are gifts that emerge,” she noted. “You meet people who are willing to walk the journey with you who you wouldn’t meet otherwise.” Her own caregiving experience put things into focus for Dr. Masters.
Speaking of her father, Dr. Masters said, “We made sure that he received not just physical care but the dignity he deserved.” She and her family were determined and able to find a place “where he would be loved, she said. “Shouldn’t we all have that expectation?” It was a gift, she added, to recognize the kinds of things provided to people in skilled facilities that make a difference in their care and well-being.
There is a greater need than ever for practitioners to be able to engage in conversations with caregivers. However, Dr. Masters suggested that this is challenging when “there is a time limit.” She offered, “I wonder if some of these conversations should happen way before someone goes to the doctor’s office. What can we do to normalize discussions about the kinds of care people want?”
Having these discussions in advance can make a significant difference for caregivers and take a burden off them when a crisis or urgent situation arises. She explained that for caregivers, their efforts aren’t just about taking care of activities of daily living and other issues. She said, “It’s also thinking about the future and the next steps. More discussions in advance will help caregivers make decisions down the road.”
As a gerontologist, Dr. Masters said, “We have an obligation to be supportive of geriatricians and palliative care practitioners to begin to normalize these conversations and look at aging from a different vantage point.” This will be essential moving forward, she said, as we face a growing aging population and caregiver shortages.
Dr. Masters also noted, “We will have to get very creative to make sure people have others in their lives to provide support. Medical home care may grow in leaps and bounds. We may need to tap into others who can serve as caregivers for much older people.”
Click here for the full podcast and more of Dr. Masters’ insights.