When a Doctor Becomes a Family Caregiver
An opinion piece in USAToday shared the story from an adult daughter and primary care physician, Dr. Bobbie Storment, whose mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 adenocarcinoma, metastatic cancer. Overnight she became a Caregiver for her mother, who was also a retired family physician. Although they were both doctors, becoming a Caregiver and care recipient was unchartered territory and provided them with important new perspectives. Her story sheds light on many issues family caregivers face today.
At the time of diagnosis, her mother lived in Detroit, MI and Storment was a long-distance Caregiver in Savannah, GA. Her mother had a hard time sharing information from her doctor’s appointments and her daughter had challenges getting the information she needed in order to help. After a health crisis and hospitalization, Storment, her husband and her sister (also a physician in Wisconsin) realized her mom needed to move to Georgia, so Storment could be more on top of her care.
After three years of treatment, the good news is her mom is in remission. Storment candidly shared what she learned, personally and as a doctor, from this experience.
“I started to realize how much of a toll a health crisis can take now that my family was in one; my years of training as a physician went quickly out the window.”
Lessons Learned as a Family Caregiver
Storment quickly learned communication is key. Her mom was too overwhelmed or upset and didn’t want to share every detail from her medical appointments on the phone. Her mother also said (like so many patients report), even though she brought questions for the doctor, she’d be too anxious to ask them at the appointment. When she moved her mother in to her home, Storment went to these appointments with her and spoke directly with the health care team.
As I say in my book, family caregivers wear many hats. Storment found the medical appointments weren’t the only responsibilities her mom needed help with. “She desperately needed someone to navigate her prescribed care plan, connect her to the right people at every stage of treatment, advocate for her during insurance calls regarding coverage, prepare meals when she was too ill to do so herself and even manage her finances so she wouldn’t have to.”
Lessons Learned as a Physician about Family Caregiving
Although her mom was a physician, she failed to share a prior health issue that impacted her current treatment plan. Storment realized that many care recipients probably do the same thing, which will help her as she continues to treat patients in her own practice.
Storment highlights that statistics show the number of years Americans living in relative good health are expanding, but our resources as caregivers to aging parents are not. She points out that our current health care system is falling short on addressing this issue. “Doctors like me are typically relegated to 15-30 minutes per patient, per visit. My fear is our aging population will expose the fallacy in this process: Short face-to-face moments with patients are insufficient to support longitudinal health needs, support that is ongoing, adaptive and inclusive of the patient’s caretakers as well.”
Being a family Caregiver has improved Storment’s interactions with her patients. “I’m now keenly aware of some of the challenges that await my patients and their loved ones when they leave my office. ”
“Even coming from a place of privilege – knowing the medicine, who in the system to contact, what the next steps are and how to do them efficiently – it was still overwhelming to be my mother’s caretaker at such a trying time in her health journey.”
Storment emphasizes the need for systemic change in our health care system, across generations as well as cultural divides. There is much information and support provided for parents with new babies and children, yet we have a huge lack of resources for those caring for their aging parents.
“Yet most everyone reading these words will need to help their aging loved ones deal with a serious health crisis.”
To read the original article, click here.