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The Debra Kleesattel Interview

An Interview with Debra Kleesattel

Gary Barg: How would you suggest that a caregiver could best partner with their loved one’s care management team?

Dr. Debra Kleesattel: Caregiving happens on such a continuum and what oftentimes happens, because that caregiver does not do what we call self-identification, they do not see themselves as caregivers. They see themselves as doing what everybody would do for their loved one.

So recognizing early on in the process of starting to provide care for someone, I think having that open and honest dialogue and communication about boy, I am seeing some changes happening here and maybe some assistance I am providing, so let us talk about that. Doing that early in the process is so important. Once that caregiving role continues to grow, when you are at the point where you really want to be asking for some help and some assistance through informal or formal support, you already have started that dialogue.

It does not feel as foreign and is not so daunting to think about finally needing some help. Beginning that dialogue and being open and honest in the communication, with both informal and formal support, early on in the caregiving process is key.

Gary Barg: Yes. I think you hit the nail right on the head. According to our friends at the National Family Caregivers Association, the greatest challenge of supporting family caregivers is self-identification. I am not a caregiver. I am just a loving daughter or I am just working 40 hours a week and helping Mom 60 hours a week and not caring for myself and falling apart, but I am not a caregiver. So that key, that partnership that you are talking about, makes so much sense to us.

Dr. Debra Kleesattel: Yes, but I think for us, the care team that we put together to assist our members, we make sure the nurses and the social workers are on the lookout for those key indicators that a member is in a caregiving situation. Then, we can start early on in that process talking about some opportunities, some challenges they may be facing. Again it is opening that dialogue as early as possible.

Gary Barg: I think that is extremely smart. Over the last few years, as well as hosting the Fearless Caregiver Conferences in the urban, more populous settings, we have been going around the country hosting them in more rural or frontier city settings. That has just been wonderful. I have so enjoyed that. What kind of advice or support do you have for rural caregivers?

Dr. Debra Kleesattel: Of course, it is easy to say and often hard to do: take care of yourself first. If you are someone who is providing care for a loved one, your spouse of 30 or 40 years who is living with Alzheimer ’s disease, and you are living with diabetes, the last thing you care about is your own blood sugar level. You want to be providing the care that you can to your loved one. We want to help caregivers understand that they can only be as good a caregiver for their loved one as their own health will allow.

So whether or not that means making sure that they are keeping up with their doctors’ appointments as well as those of their loved ones, exercising and eating healthy, it is easy to say. But it is something that really does need to be addressed. Helping the caregiver understand how important that is, I think, is vital. Also, too, is asking for help. It is so easy to say you should know when to ask for help or ask for help early, but we really need to identify some key points where caregivers can get some help.

Maybe they need respite so they are able to go get their diabetic supplies to test their blood sugar, or maybe they need somebody to come to assist with some household chores. We need to point out some potential areas where both informal and formal support can help them and that they should not be afraid to ask for that help. Educating themselves is important as well if they are able and willing to ask health professionals or their doctor about the disease or condition their loved one is living with. Sometimes that information can be really powerful. National organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association or the American Diabetes Association are also great places to get information related to the conditions their loved one is living with.