Self-care is the caregiver’s most critical task

Patricia Griffiths, PhD, MS

Patricia Griffiths, PhD, MS

Research integrity and fun are not mutually exclusive.” – Dr. Patricia Griffiths

Emory Geriatrics researcher Patricia Griffiths, PhD, MS, has always been interested in working with older adults, but it was her experience caring for her own mother that inspired her dedication to supporting both patients with dementia and their caregivers. “Wonderful things can happen in that intimate, loving, caregiver relationship, “Griffiths says. “Our greatest calling is to serve and to be of service to other people.  But we also know that it can be very stressful. Caregivers often sacrifice their own health to help someone else. And so they need help learning to take care of themselves. Trying to determine the best way to do that has been a lot of fun for a lot of years.”

All of the studies Dr. Griffiths oversees have common components, including caregiving dyads (a caregiver and patient pair) over age 55, using technology to collect data and deliver interventions, offering home visits rather than requiring travel to a hospital or clinic, and promoting self-care and self-efficacy.

Dr. Griffiths has learned that asking caregivers to participate in her studies has the potential to draw their attention to just how overwhelming their caregiving burden is. “We have to be careful with the burdened and stressed caregivers – when we ask them to work with us, we have to give them something in return, because many of them don’t realize how much they are doing until we ask them.”

“The caregivers are a diverse group, but with technology, we can offer a smorgasbord of options.” And that can help persons living with dementia, or older adults living with mild cognitive impairment or age-related memory loss, stay at home longer in a familiar environment, which can be the best thing for them. Dr. Griffiths’ preferred term is “’Aging with Choice’” – wherever people want to age is where I want to help them to be. More often than not, it’s at home, if that’s the safest place.”

Griffiths is currently working with Emory’s Geriatric fellows to develop a brief caregiver screening tool that can be used by providers during a clinical visit. “That caregiver is the patient’s assistive technology, because she, and it is usually a female, is doling out medications, monitoring nutrition and exercise, and if she goes down, the patient’s health goes downhill fast.”

All of the programs are holistic – there is medication and meditation. For example, daily physical activity is equally important as a dedicated quiet time. And it’s all designed to give the user choices – various guided meditations embrace various spiritual ideologies. There are even suggested exercises for those who are mobile and those who are chair-bound. It’s critical to make these interventions easy and accessible, because if it is just another chore, the caregiver isn’t going to buy in and make it happen or follow through.

What’s next for Dr. Griffiths? She’s looking for funding for her next big project, called REPOSE (Relaxation Enhancement Program of Spiritual Hygiene Exercises), which will be a full year of tele-health daily positive affirmations and meditation time that can be tailored by length and subject matter to the user. She’s also finished a book that gathers all the best practices from her sleep study.  Her dream is to make the programs accessible to everyone, everywhere, because, and here Dr. Griffiths quotes Rosalyn Carter: “There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers. And those who will need caregivers.”

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About the Author

Emory Department of Medicine
Emory Department of Medicine
The Emory University Department of Medicine, within the Emory University School of Medicine, is steeped in a rich tradition of excellence. Through the work of its nine divisions and numerous centers and institutes, the department has pioneered discoveries in medicine, education, scientific and clinical investigation, and clinical care. Emory University School of Medicine's medical school, residency, transitional-year, and fellowship programs offer students the latest knowledge in treatment practices, scientific theories, research, and patient care. The Emory University Department of Medicine is a component of the Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University, which includes the Emory schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare.

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