Caregivers: Servant Leaders of the 21st Century

By Kevin Brown | Bio

In my last post, I shared my observations concerning the ability of my mother-in-law to embrace change. This week I thought I would focus on the challenges faced by her primary caregiver, my wife. Rather than address the challenges in the relationship between adults and their aging parents, I will share some of the challenges caregivers (family or friends) increasingly face from healthcare providers. Some of these challenges may indeed be unique to our province and country of residence (Alberta, Canada), but surely some will exist in your community as well.
One of the third-party challenges my wife faces in caring for her mother pertains to her mother’s doctor. My mother-in-law is 91 years of age and, not surprisingly, has a number of medical concerns. She is a diabetic, has a bladder that is tipped and does not fully drain (therefore she experiences periodic bladder infections), and while she can walk on her own, she does benefit from the use of a walker as her balance isn’t all it used to be. 

My wife books her mother’s medical appointments and shuttles her mom back and forth to her doctor.  Recently, my wife picked her mom up to take her to the doctor to receive the results of some blood work as a result of a previous bladder infection. On the way to the doctor, her mother explained her toe was bleeding (not a good thing for a diabetic), and so upon arrival at the doctor’s office my wife asked them to check her mom’s foot.  The response was “This appointment is about the results of a blood test. You will have to make another appointment for me to examine your mom’s foot.” It should be noted that here in Alberta, a general practitioner gets paid a set fee from Medicare, whether the doctor treats one symptom or 10 during an appointment. Many doctors are now refusing to treat more than one symptom at a time. This is frustrating for an adult who is independent, but this is near irresponsible and unprofessional when dealing with a dependant senior in their 90s. Imagine the stress for a caregiver when they must transport their parent back and forth due to the practice of one symptom per appointment. Imagine the worry for my wife that her mom’s foot may become infected whilst waiting for another appointment.
Staying with the practice of one symptom per visit. A typical situation for my wife is that her mother indeed has multiple medical issues. Her mother often has to have blood tests to check the levels of her medication.  Because the doctor will not address multiple symptoms in one visit, my wife do the following several times a year: take her mother to the doctor’s office, then for blood tests, then to the doctor’s to hear the results, then for another appointment for another symptom, then another blood test, then for prescriptions—and round and round it goes.  Here is a family caregiver trying to assist her mother and keep her out of extended care (saving the government and the taxpayer future medical costs) and instead, there is no regard for the burden this places on family members and friends of aging seniors. Another impact of this approach is that patients are making multiple trips to doctors, laboratories, x-ray centres and other healthcare-related facilities. Might these multiple visits contribute to the extended wait times all users experience at all levels of the healthcare chain?
Staying with the doctor. Now consider the impact all this circle of service or lack thereof has on scheduling for the family caregiver that is still working. Balancing work, home, and caregiver responsibilities can indeed be overwhelming. Wouldn’t it be helpful if dependent seniors and their attending caregivers were given priority by healthcare providers when it comes to visiting the doctor, the laboratory, specialists etc.? If this were possible, it could reduce the amount of time that caregivers must commit to health  services for dependent parents.
Caregivers are servant leaders of the first order and deserve our appreciation for their selfless commitment of time, energy and love when caring for dependent parents. Caregivers are Elders in action within their families and communities. Their concern for others is reflected in our Eldering Manifesto  If you have a caregiver in your home, take time to thank them for their contribution to the lives of others.

© 2009 Kevin Brown. All rights reserved.


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