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Health Beat: Upcoming events for caregivers looking for support, businesses looking for insurance

What does it mean for caregivers that people are living longer and facing more health care decisions than ever before?

Dennis McCullough, a faculty member at Dartmouth Medical School and a son who was his elderly mother’s caregiver for several years, will be the keynote speaker Thursday at the Bowls of Care event, which will be hosted by ServiceLink and Elder Services of Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties.

Watching his mother’s health gradually decline inspired McCullough to broaden his area of study from geriatrics (treating the medical problems of age) to gerontology (the study of aging in psychological, economic and relationship issues).

A generation or two ago, people had greater continuity of care from their community doctor and hospital, said McCullough, who works in the medical school’s Department of Community and Family Medicine. Now, continuity often comes only from the family.

“There’s been much fragmentation. Some has been overcome by doctors and nurse practitioners doing house calls,” he said. “But as people have lived longer and longer – and they have conditions that can’t be changed very much by more medical care or more treatments – there’s a tendency for the health care system to let people adrift. Doctors say there’s not much we can do, so we’ll wait in the wings, and if problems arise, contact us. Caregivers are trying to maintain connections with people who are distancing themselves from you.”

McCullough said his speech Thursday will mainly focus on what caregivers can do for their loved ones and themselves.

“When somebody is older and debilitated, making good decisions about what things are helpful and what things are not becomes more difficult. It’s harder to tease out the things that are really useful, because often, when people are so frail already, any treatment or device that could help with one problem isn’t really going to change the broader picture of things,” he said.

The best step a caregiver can take is to seek support early, he said.

“There are probably more support groups around than people are aware of, but the first challenge isn’t finding one, (it’s) finding the certain kind of courage to enter the group where you may hear stories that can make you feel discouraged by the difficulties others are having,” he said.

But those stories can help caregivers take a more thoughtful approach when their family member’s doctor suggests treatments: “Often other people’s stories allow us to say later, ‘Maybe we should be more careful, think about this more deeply and consider what we would do if the treatment doesn’t go well,’ ” he said.

What he likely won’t have time to share is the story of his own experience as a caregiver. When his mother was in her late 80s, McCullough and his sister shared caregiving duties.

That was when he saw the tendency of doctors, even very good ones, to step back when there was no immediate major threat to tend.

“We went from crisis to crisis that way, as opposed to figuring out ways to help earlier,” he said.

He also was struck by how different conversations about old age and death feel when the subject is a loved one, not a patient.

“There comes a time when the penny drops and you realize it isn’t going to get better. That was a pretty profound time for me,” he said. “People in medicine see so often that people get sick and they go home and they die. It becomes routine for them. For a family member, it is never routine. This is one of the few times in your life when someone really close to you is dying, and that’s a big deal.”

Bowls of Care will take place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the New Hampshire Audubon Society on Silk Farm Road in Concord.

Tickets cost $30 and include a handmade bowl to be filled with a variety of soups, salads, breads and desserts from local kitchens and restaurants. Peggo Horstmann Hodes will also speak and there will be an auction of exceptional experiences and unique pottery. For more information and to purchase a ticket, contact Nicole Finitsis, Senior Companions’ program manager at nfinitsis


Another event coming up is the fifth annual New Hampshire Business Review Health Care Forum. This year, the event, presented by MVP Health Care, will take place from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. Oct. 1 at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.

The keynote speaker will be Stan Hupfeld, former CEO of the largest health care provider in Oklahoma. Hupfeld will discuss the health insurance marketplaces – where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for insurance plans – that will open that same day.

After Hupfeld’s address, the event will feature a panel of New Hampshire business representatives who will discuss how their firms have and will respond to the Affordable Care Act.

Panelists will include attorney Steve Gerlach, associate member of the Labor and Employment Practice Group and adjunct member of the Business Law Practice Group at Bernstein Shur; Connie Roy-Czyzowski, vice president of human resources for Northeast Delta Dental; Ken Koornneef, president of Nobis Engineering Inc.; and Mike Melville, CEO of IntelliSoft Group.

The panel discussion will be moderated by Scott Spradling, an Emmy award-winning former reporter, anchor and political director for WMUR in Manchester who now leads The Spradling Group, a consulting and public relations business.

Registration is open until Wednesday and can be secured by visiting nhbr.com/healthcareforum. Walk-in attendees are also welcome, organizers said.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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