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Caregivers: The Invisible Patient

Caring for the Caregiver

'I Am a Caregiver' continued...

That type of support is vital to the well-being of caregivers, says Joanne Schwartzberg, MD, a gernontologist who is the American Medical Association's point person on caregiver health.

"The social isolation faced by caregivers is undeniable," says Schwartzberg, and it often extends so far that the caregiver become "invisible even to physicians and others who are providing medical care for the patient." Taken together, that isolation and invisibility often put the caregivers' own health in jeopardy, leading to increased risk of illness and death.

The AMA now considers caregiver health to be a major public health concern and has launched a campaign to alert physicians to the problem, she says. As part of routine office visits, the AMA wants physicians to ask every adult patient: "Do you have responsibility for caregiving?" If the answer is yes, the patient would then be asked to complete a special questionnaire that is designed to assess health problems, such as back pain, anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness.

Beyond urging caregivers to take care of themselves, Agaratus says she also wants to spread the word that "this is really very fulfilling, and it does get better."

For example, she says, her daughter Stephanie "taught herself the piano when she was 4," and has since grown to become a gifted musician who has won awards for several songs, stories, and poems she has written. Beyond that, says her mom, "she is really cute. Really."

And lucky. Really.

Some Resources

  • Eldercare Locator, www.aoa.gov/elderpage/locator.html
  • Alzheimer's Association, www.alz.org/caregiver
  • AARP, www.aarp.org
  • Family Caregiver Alliance, www.caregiver.org
  • National Alliance for Caregiving, www.caregiving.org
  • National Association for Home Care, www.nahc.org
  • National Caregiving Foundation, www.caregivingfoundation
  • National Family Caregivers Association, www.nfcacares.org
  • National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, www.nhpco.org
  • National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, www.nichcy.org
  • National Mental Health Association, www.nmha.org
  • National Stroke Association, www.stroke.org
  • Rosalynn Carter Institute National Quality Caregiving Coalition, http://rci.gsw.peachnet.edu
  • The Well Spouse Foundation, www.wellspouse.org.
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