Caregiving

The (not-so-hidden) costs of caregiving

Leo Newhouse, LICSW
Leo Newhouse, LICSW, Contributor

Americans provide nearly $650 billion worth of unpaid caregiving for their ill or aging loved ones every year. But the less tangible costs are important, too. A new study has revealed that caregivers of critically ill family members are at high risk for depression — and that this risk remains high long after the initial health crisis is over. Fortunately, there are several strategies caregivers can use to keep their bodies — and minds — healthy.

Opioid crisis: The difference between sympathy and empathy

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributor

When a patient calls a new doctor begging for a refill on their pain medication, what should the doctor do? Denying medication to someone in significant pain seems unethical — but denying it to someone who’s suspected to be reselling it is a whole different story. Doctors now have systems in place to help them make the right call. But even these systems can’t replace the most critical piece of the puzzle — empathy.

Avoid this common hazard of being in the hospital

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

A hospital stay can be confusing and disorienting for anyone — but especially for older people, who are prone to episodes of delirium when in the hospital. Several hospital-based programs exist to help identify people at risk for delirium and prevent episodes before they happen. We’ve discussed one such successful program, plus listed tips to help you or your loved one avoid delirium during a hospital stay.

Medical alert systems: In vogue, and for some, invaluable

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Medical alert devices can be a lifesaver — literally — if you suffer a fall. But not all medical devices are created equal. Here, we’ve listed the most common types and described the pros and cons of each, as well as the important things to consider when deciding which type to purchase.

Decline in dementia rate offers “cautious hope”

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Last year, the Alzheimer’s Association predicted that rates of dementia would continue to rise. However, a report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that rates of dementia have actually dropped steadily over the past three decades. Whether the drop in rates applies to everyone, and whether it will continue, remain to be seen. But the evidence also confirms that there’s quite a lot you can do to lower your dementia risk.

The latest ways to relieve the burden of decision-making at life’s end

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

A POLST order goes beyond what a DNR can cover: it allows you to set your preferences for treatments such as nutrition, pain medicine, and antibiotics at the end of life, and it applies both inside and outside the hospital. However, it’s not without its drawbacks. Ultimately, it’s safest to draw up not only a POLST, but other types of tried-and-true directives, to ensure you get the end-of-life care you want.

The empowering potential of end-of-life care

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

There’s almost always something we can do to improve our health and well-being — even at the end of our lives. Palliative care is designed to improve the quality of life for people with life-threatening illnesses and their families by keeping a person comfortable and making sure his or her values and preferences guide the medical team’s actions. For this reason, good communication with your care team — and your loved ones — is essential, even before you or a loved one has developed a serious illness.

Compassionate veteran care: Embracing respect for the individual

Sigmund Hough, PhD, ABPP/rp
Sigmund Hough, PhD, ABPP/rp, Contributing Editor

The need to support injured soldiers dates back to our country’s earliest days. That mission remains essential today. Those who may be eligible for VA benefits and services — veterans and their family or survivors — make up a quarter of the United States’ population. Individuals seeking care through the Department of Veterans Affairs deserve a thoughtful and compassionate evaluation to not only compensate them for their service, but connect them with the care they need.

When caring for a loved one, many caregivers go it alone

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

An estimated 43.5 million Americans provide in-home, long-term care for older adult family members with a chronic illness. In a new JAMA survey, caregivers are typically women who spend about 20 to 40 hours a week providing care. Most caregivers feel abandoned and unrecognized by the health care system. Spousal caregivers face greater challenges than caregivers helping a parent for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they tend to be older. Many caregivers don’t know about, or take advantage of, services and support systems such as respite care, help with non-medical services such as housekeeping and cooking, counseling, and more. The Caregiver’s Handbook, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, includes detailed information that can help women and men provide better care for their loved ones and take care of themselves.

Two-thirds of seniors need help doing one or more daily activities

Howard LeWine, M.D.
Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

A longer lifespan can be a double-edged sword. You live for more years, but the later years may not necessarily be what you had in mind. We’ve known for some time that about 25% of older Americans can’t perform some activities of daily living without help. But we don’t know much about the other 75%. A new study suggests that two-thirds of Americans over age 65 need help doing everyday activities such as eating, bathing, and getting in and out of bed or a chair. Things you can do to help ward off becoming frail or disabled include staying active, managing weight and eating a healthy diet, preventing falls, making connections with others, and seeing your doctor(s) regularly.