One of the lessons I learned early on in my time as a caregiver for my father was that he and I weren't alone. I'm not talking about the support - both logistical and emotional - we received from family, neighbors and the amazing senior center in our little Cape Cod town. I'm talking about the doctors and nurses who, one by one, became a regular part of our lives. Their help was irreplaceable, but each relationship required its own care and nurturing.
The subject of raising the minimum wage has been a theme in the news for the last several weeks. You might be surprised to learn that many home health aides will see no benefit from any possible bump to the current $7.25 an hour rate - I know I was, when I read an article from CNN Money posted on one of my new favorite blogs, The Voice of Aging Boomers. It turns out that many home health aides are grouped with babysitters in U.S. labor laws, and so those who hire them are exempt from paying them anything more than what you give that nice high school girl to watch your 12-year-old when you go out to dinner for the evening.
Following up my last post - Learning to Say No to Doctors - I was interested to read results of a new study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association that reported up to 38 percent of colonoscopies performed on those between 76 to 85 years old (and almost 25 percent of those over 86) were potentially inappropriate under existing guidelines. I take a personal interest in this procedure because colon cancer played a significant role in my father's decline and his death in October 2012.
Through a post on the New York Times' New Old Age blog, I learned of a great initiative by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation to help patients understand they're allowed to just say "no." The effort is called " Choosing Wisely," and it's bringing together many medical specialties to help patients and doctors understand when specific tests and treatments do - and don't - make sense. (AARP also has covered the program).
In 2006, Massachusetts instituted a plan requiring its residents to have health-insurance coverage, whether from their employer or self-paid. This program is the model for the Affordable Care Act (ACA - also known as "Obamacare"). Two years earlier, the state began a program to promote coordinated health care and social services for "dual eligibles" - those qualifying for both Medicare and MassHealth (what Medicaid is called in Massachusetts). Called Senior Care Options (SCO), the plan is free to participants - no premiums, copayments or deductibles are involved. And the results reported so far show it's another health innovation worth attention.
One goes through so many emotions as a caregiver- fear, sadness, anger, joy, surprise, just to name a few- but the one emotion I probably felt most often was simply, overwhelmed. That single feeling of being out of control and always on my guard amplified whatever other emotion I might have been experiencing at any given time. It wasn't really until Dad already had spent six months or so in his nearby nursing home that I finally learned how to just breathe, instead of react, whenever his weight rose unexpectedly or blood sugar spiked. And breathing, instead of reacting, made all the difference in our relationship.
You may have seen some coverage of the report released this past fall on the growing importance of caregivers in providing help that would require a registered nurse if the patient were in a hospital. "Home Alone: Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care" was jointly researched and written by AARP and the United Hospital Fund. Managing prescription and non-prescription medications took up the biggest chunk of these surrogate nurses' time. But more than a third of those providing what otherwise would qualify as professional care also managed wound treatment - and two-thirds of those were fearful of making a mistake.
In my last post, I ranted a bit about the perceived invisibility of men in caregiving discussions. This time, I want to turn that camera around and take a look at how men can sometimes be their own worst enemies when taking on a caregiving role. The urge many of us have to step in, analyze and act can make the experience much more difficult than it needs to be (believe me, I learned the hard way). Over time, I developed this four-point checklist to help myself get past the urge to make things better and to enjoy the time I had with my father as much as I possibly could.
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