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When Patients are Caregivers Themselves

When Jane’s husband was diagnosed with dementia, she found herself in a situation now more than 53 million Americans are experiencing, providing unpaid care for relatives and friends. An older adult with her own health struggles, Jane was overwhelmed managing both of their needs as his condition progressed, and often herself putting her husband’s health before her own.

Jane was referred to Lena by her Primary Care Physician. In my first conversation with Jane, she shared with me that the stress, physical, and emotional fatigue of caregiving had become so overwhelming, that she had attempted suicide six months prior. After a subsequent hospitalization, her care team referred her to a psychiatrist that has been treating her mental health symptoms with medication.

During our conversations, I provided active listening and a safe space for Jane to communicate her frustrations, challenges, and feelings. I’d be a sounding board as she reflected on her internal conflicts. During one conversation, Jane expressed an openness to talk therapy with a counselor in addition to the medications she’s now taking.

In the past, Jane had not pursued this because she, like so many others, worried about what family may think and what this means about who she is. Unfortunately, this is the longstanding stigma problem associated with mental health treatment. To compound her barriers, she was unsure if her insurance would cover these benefits, had heard they are expensive, and also didn’t know where to start in finding the right provider.

Like much of what I do, I simplified the process by doing the heavy lifting so that Jane could feel at ease in seeking the care she needs. I verified the coverage for psychotherapy services, found available therapists that fit her selection criteria, and ensured that they accepted her insurance and were accepting new patients.

In my search, I discovered what many seeking care do, which is that mental health services are increasingly difficult to navigate and limited in their availability. In her current state, it would have been tremendously difficult for Jane to make these multiple calls daily, with the often-required follow-ups. This process would be daunting and frustrating for anyone, but seemingly impossible for someone caring for another loved one with their own complex health challenges.

As Jane’s Personal Health Assistant, my goal is to help her make the most informed decisions about her health and remove barriers for her to receive the care she needs. With the referral list, knowledge of her insurance coverage, and a support at the ready to schedule her first appointment, Jane can be empowered to seek care when she feels ready. In the meantime, Jane knows she always has her Lena Assistant available to her, right in her pocket.


About the Author

Emily Gillaspie

Health Advocate

Emily is a Health Advocate at Lena Health, with over a decade of experience in working with older adults in various settings including adult day programs, assisted living, and affordable housing environments. Emily earned her Bachelors of Science in Health Sciences with a concentration in Community Health in 2012. Through volunteering, she discovered her passion for working with seniors.

Emily spent the last five years providing case management services for seniors in low-income housing in Long Beach, California. There, she managed the company’s largest and most complex caseload in the midst of the Los Angeles housing crisis, earning a reputation for her work ethic, empathy, ability to establish rapport and reliability.

In her free time, Emily enjoys all things outdoors including backcountry camping, alpine mountaineering, and hiking. She is an avid runner and has run the Los Angeles Marathon three times. A recent transplant to South Texas, she is enjoying getting to know her new community and exploring all that it has to offer.

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