Tales, Tips and Love from Women Caregivers


Elayne Clift

Women have always been caregivers. Whether looking after small children, elders, other family members or friends in small communities, tending to others in urban settings with limited support systems, or acting as professional caregivers in institutional settings, we have been the primary providers of physical care and emotional support in a variety of settings and circumstances throughout the ages.

Today that remains true, and being the main caregiver may be more vital than ever. As women have children later and elders live longer, we are challenged by competing demands and shrinking resources. Many of us have elderly parents living (perhaps with us) in a time of growing dementia or increasing frailty; others have parents who need supervision in nursing homes of dubious quality. At the same time, we are parenting children who quite often have their own physical or mental health challenges. We may also have spouses in failing health who need our attention. And who among us would not be there for an ill friend or family member?

Whether we are younger women focused on child care, older women charged with “being there” for a sick spouse or parent, or women in the Sandwich Generation who are called upon to take care of children and parents simultaneously, many of us find ourselves in the caregiver role, well before we expected to be there and often feeling less prepared than we wish.  We are all caregivers at some stage of our lives, and we all have stories to tell about what that has meant for us.

It’s important to emphasize women as caregivers because while men and women are both likely to fulfill caregiving roles, female caregivers spend many more hours providing care. They spend an average of 680 hours per year providing care, 160 more hours on average than male caregivers. Female caregivers may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than male caregivers. (more…)

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Defining the next revolution for women, work and family

Madeleine Kunin

During these last days of the summer, we here at Disruptive Women are reflecting on posts near when we first launched—it’s fascinating to see how far we’ve come and where we still have to goto pushto Disrupt.  After all, a woman’s work is never done. We originally published this post on June 19, 2012.

The New Feminist Agenda, defining the next revolution for women, work and familyby Madeleine Kunin. Trying to “do it all” takes a toll on women’s health. And men’s health too.  Surprisingly, more men than women report feeling work life stress.

It’s time to take a serious look at how we expect families to combine work and family without jeopardizing their health  in today’s predominantly two-wage earner family.  In my book, “The New Feminist Agenda, defining the next revolution for women, work and family,” published on Mother’s Day (reviewed the same day in  The New York Times Book Review on the front cover)  I lay out an agenda that would enable working families to be both  healthier providers and caregivers.

I was on a radio talk show Monday morning, emanating from Miami, Florida, and one of the callers explained that she has a job, recently had her second child, her husband is helpful, but all she feels in guilt. She would like to spend more time with her children, but she can’t because she is working.  “Does anyone else feel this way?” she asked.

I assured her that as a mother of four children who had a political career, I knew exactly what she was talking about.

When I wrote my first book, Living a Political life, my editor at Knopf told me, “You’ve got to cut out some of the guilt in the manuscript. “ I cut some of it out of the book, but I haven’t cut it completely out of my life.


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Living Your Best Life, Even In The Hospital

Val Jones, MD

This post first appeared on Better Health on October 6.

My patient was an elderly farmer with severe vascular disease. He had advanced leg artery narrowing, had survived multiple heart attacks, and was admitted to the hospital after a large stroke. He was incredibly cheerful, vibrant, and optimistic. He had a very large, loving family who took turns attending to him, and encouraging him with each small improvement in his leg and arm strength. They knew his neurological exam better than his doctors.

I was amazed at his recovery, given the size and location of his stroke (and his advanced age), I had suspected that he would end up wheelchair bound. But he was determined to walk again and get back to his gardening as soon as possible. (more…)

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Mom Has Alzheimer’s: Coping Strategies for Caregivers

cecil 1

Image via Pixabay

September was World Alzheimer’s Month so it’s a great time for all of us to reflect on the hardships faced by the nearly 5 million Americans diagnosed with this horrible disease, a figure comprised of a startling one in six women versus one in eleven men ages 65 and older.

But it’s also a time for us to honor the daily struggles of the selfless, compassionate individuals who act as their caregivers. It’s an especially difficult endeavor for all of the women who take on the role, as they often juggle this effort with raising a family, running a household, and holding down a full-time 9 to 5 career.

Caregiving is a round-the-clock occupation in which one’s responsibilities continuously change as the illness progresses from its early stages to its debilitating late stages. And while it’s certainly a difficult job, there are actually many ways to make caregiving tasks more manageable. Here are a few ways to smooth the transition to life post-diagnosis. (more…)

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Sixth White House Conference on Aging: Now It’s Time to Do More. A Lot More.

Anne-Montgomery-PortraitThe post below first ran on Altarum Institute’s Health Policy Forum.

Around the country, people at more than 700 “watch parties” gathered to tune into a livestream of the White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) on Monday, July 13. Hosted by the White House in the East Wing and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with an invited audience of about 200 attendees, the sixth WHCOA featured more than two dozen speakers, most notably President Obama. They heard about many accomplishments, a few shortcomings, and a commitment to taking forward some solutions—but not enough. Striking a tone that was both optimistic and pragmatic, the President observed that even as challenges for health care programs and for individual retirement security are “becoming more urgent” due to the sheer size of the Baby Boomer cohort, older adults are “living longer and living healthier. We’re seeing people break athletic records—in their 60s,” he noted with a smile.

Turning to policy, the President called on attendees, policymakers, and citizens to keep Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act (OAA), and Social Security robust and available, not only for current seniors but also for younger generations. “For Medicare,” he noted, “that means we’ve got to keep slowing the growth of health care costs.” While no blueprint was presented at the conference for how to accomplish this, the Obama Administration waded into these controversial waters last January with an announcement by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell that the agency would attempt to shift half of all fee-for-service Medicare payments by the end of 2018 to “alternative payment models.” (more…)

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Hospice Reflections

jane lincolnJane Lincoln and I are Facebook friends. We met (on Facebook) through a mutual friend and colleague when the two of them worked together at AARP. Jane’s career has involved helping and caring for those who need it most. Jane not only provides hands on care but through her powerful posts, is able to share the heart wrenching reality that people go through when they are most vulnerable, scared, lonely, and struggling. With her poignant pen, Jane allows us to peer in to a world where few dare to go. You cannot read her reflections and not be moved. Jane graciously allowed me to share two recent pieces that really moved me. You may be working on hospice policy, aging issues, or care management.  You may be dealing with a similar personal situation. Read this. So much depth and wisdom—the kind of learning that comes from the front line. For those of you looking at policy and business ROIs, not sure how you quantify this. Pretty sure you can’t begin to do justice to the caregivers all of us will eventually depend upon.   – Robin Strongin, Disruptive Women in Health Care Founder

July 18 at 3:29pm Facebook Post (permission to repost on Disruptive Women)

Yesterday, I met a new patient who’s starting home hospice care. He mentioned that he’d had polio as a child, and when he went into a hospital at age 4, it was so far away from his home that he’d forgotten what his parents looked like when they came and got him 2 years later.

Can you imagine? (more…)

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In Alzheimer’s Disease, Caregiving May Be Just As Trying As the Disease Itself

swhr_icon-2-solidThe post below originally appeared on HuffPost’s Living Healthy blog on July 15.

When most of us think of Alzheimer’s disease, our first thought isn’t usually of the quiet caregiver alongside the patient, devoting their time to helping someone living with the disease. But caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is often a full-time job, taking its toll on the caregiver.

According to AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, the “typical” family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who takes care of a relative. Nearly 25 percent of America’s caregivers are millennials (adults aged 18 to 34) and are more likely to be female than male. In fact, 66 percent of all caregivers are women, and female caregivers devote as much as 50 percent more time providing care than their male counterparts. Caregivers older than 75 years tend to be the sole support system for their loved one, providing care without any outside help.

Nearly half of caregivers who provide 21 or more hours of care each week report high emotional stress, and with an average household income of $45,700, caregivers feel not only emotional strain, but also immense financial strain, as the cost of caregiving is at least $5,000 annually. (more…)

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Caring for Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s Disease: Families Struggle for Resources to Cope

candaceCandace Y.A. Montague, a health reporter for Capital Community News authored the article below. It originally ran here.

It started off with small, inexplicable acts like leaving raw chicken in the microwave or putting bread in the freezer. But Angela Byrd knew that something wasn’t right about her 67-year-old mother Shirley. It escalated to car accidents where Shirley would hit another car and argue that it wasn’t her fault. Then one day Byrd got a call from her grandmother explaining that Shirley was lost in Takoma Park, Northwest. She had no recollection of how she got there. The Byrds live on Alabama Avenue in Southeast.

“That’s when I took her car keys away,” said Byrd. “I just couldn’t take it anymore.” With the support of her aunt, her grandmother, and her mother’s best friend, Byrd convinced her mother to go to a doctor, who diagnosed her as having the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. “I think my mother already knew this. She just wasn’t telling everybody else about it. She’s a strong woman.” (more…)

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Get Out While We Can: Aid in Dying and Diane Rehm

Janice Lynch Schuster

In 1994, my family promised my grandmother, just diagnosed with metastatic cancer, that we would help her—and prevent her suffering—till the end. We promised she would die at home, and that she would not be in pain. But, like popular NPR host Diane Rehm discovered as she cared for her dying husband, we soon discovered how hard it is to deliver on such promises, especially in a time and place where aid-in-dying was and is illegal.

When she became ill, the entire family rallied to care for my grandmother, our matriarch. Eventually, her pain, which had spread to her bones, became impossible to manage. She had was a stoic woman, and admitting to pain indicated how unbearable it had become.

Doctors call this intractable pain: Experiencing or witnessing it is seeing. Despite being enrolled in hospice, with its promises of dignity and relief, issues around opioids prevented adequate pain management. Hospice nurses were not there to hasten her death, they said, or cause addiction. In the case of someone already near death, why does it matter?

On one of her last nights alive, we spent terrified hours trying to get someone from hospice to her home. By phone, we begged her nurses to help us. One suggested that such suffering reflected God’s will. (Not our God, I said.) While we stood helpless and distraught around my grandmother’s bed, a nurse called adult protective services. (more…)

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Congress Passes ABLE Act: Major Victory for Persons with Disabilities and Their Families

Congratulations to one of our 2015 Disruptive Women to Watch Madeleine Will for all her work on this legislation and on behalf of persons with disabilities. 

(Washington, D.C. – Dec. 17, 2014) – Last night, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 by a vote of 76 to 16. First introduced in 2006, and subsequent sessions of Congress, the ABLE Act will allow people with disabilities (with an age of onset up to 26 years old) and their families the opportunity to create a tax-exempt savings account that can be used for maintaining health, independence and quality of life.

“Today marks a new day in our country’s understanding and support of people with disabilities and their families,” Michael Morris, National Disability Institute (NDI) Executive Director, said. “A major victory for the disability community, ABLE, for the very first time in our country’s policy on disability, recognizes that there are added costs to living with a disability.” He continued. “For far too long, federally imposed asset limits to remain eligible for critical public benefits have served as a roadblock toward greater financial independence for the millions of individuals living with a disability.”  (more…)

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A Week of Music and Health Quality

Cyndy Nayer

Highlights from Stevie Wonder and the meetings of Boston and DC.

albumsIt was a week of meetings, concert, new ideas, gorgeous weather, and finding new friends–a week of quality, indeed.  Here are some findings, some musings, and some encouragement to all who are seeking to build quality and safety into health outcomes.

Boston:  No surprise that this beautiful city is accelerating some of the changes we want to see in health care and health outcomes. Meetings with new folks have fueled my energy in advancing the agenda in the all-important Rx development and access.  What’s missing is the value of new and developing treatments in improving the total value proposition:  what’s the worth in a family (quality of life during treatment), a worksite (lower absenteeism and lowering income loss), and to a person (less side effects, easier adherence, getting to cure [where possible]).  Of course I’ve written about this before (Framework for Outcomes-Based ContractingSovaldi Value of a CureSovaldi OBC Contract–Kiss is Still a Kiss), providing the business and outcomes models for using a high-cost drug that gets the person to goal. (more…)

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In Observance of Jessie Gruman

jessie-gruman picOn July 14th, 2014 we lost a truly outstanding woman to her battle with a long time illness. Jessie Gruman was the president and founder of the Center for Advancing Health. A true patient advocate, she promoted not only patient engagement but the use of evidence-based medicine to support the adoption of healthy behavior.  In addition to her professional career, Gruman defined herself as a musician, avid reader of poetry and interested in foreign policy, the media and global health. She was a true disruptive (more…)

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Who Will Take Care of You at Home if You’re Seriously Ill?

It turns out that the hilarious British spoof on the horrors of the Man-Cold might be truer than we ever imagined. The joke reality here is that when a husband gets sick, his wife is naturally expected to become his doting caregiver, but when a wife gets sick, she may feel distinctly on her own.

A study presented last month at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America actually reported that the risk of divorce among married couples rises when the wife – but not the husband — becomes seriously ill. (more…)

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Working on a Dream: Reflections on The White House Summit on Working Families

Janice Lynch Schuster

In the late 1940s, my grandmother found herself a single mother of three, living far from family in Washington, DC, where she had moved to be a Government Girl during the war. A graduate of Smith College, and the child of Irish immigrants, she worked as many jobs as she could, and I often heard stories about her nights spent cleaning spittoons in dentists’ offices, or making dollhouse furniture on a lathe. At some point, unable to manage so much on so little, she sent her children to boarding schools run by the Catholic Church. My mother was five; the only story she shares about those years is about her joy when she was finally old enough to go home again, and to let herself in to the apartment after school. Eventually, my grandmother completed a master’s degree in science, and worked as a researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She was always my hero. (more…)

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Life and Death in Assisted Living: A FrontLine Special

MedicareAmerica is aging and it is aging quickly.

Currently, about 1 in 8 Americans are 65 years of age or older. It is estimated that this number will balloon to  72.1 million persons over the age of 65, or 19% of the population, by 2030.

As we explored in our eBook, the Different Faces of Caregiving, securing proper support for members of the aging population is a very difficult task.  And more often than not, families face significant financial difficulty in securing proper housing and care for their loved ones when they are no longer able to care for themselves. (more…)

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