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Caring for seriously ill relatives and the people who take care of them

Jamie Sentnor (L) and Deborah Phelps (R) joined host Don Marsh to talk about caring for seriously ill relatives and for the people who provide care.
Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio
Jamie Sentnor (L) and Deborah Phelps (R) joined host Don Marsh to talk about caring for seriously ill relatives and for the people who provide care.

“The supply of family caregivers will not keep pace with the future demand as our population ages and people live with multiple complex chronic conditions,” argued the authors of a recent academic article in Generations: Journal of American Society on Aging.

This point highlights an impending shortage of caregivers but also of concern is how the people who take care of our older population are cared for themselves.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh spoke with two local experts about providing care for patients and the people who care for them.

“It’s emotionally, financially and physically draining,” said Deborah Phelps, a professor of sociology at Fontbonne University and author of "Frank's Arms - Stories & Lessons From a Caregiver and Patient Advocate.”

The book is a memoir about the time she spent caring for her husband, who had a rare autoimmune disease called scleroderma.

Doctors initially told Frank that he had three months to live, though as Phelps explained, he lived for seven years, eventually passing in 2005.

“You do it out of love and devotion,” Phelps explained about caring for her husband. What often gets less attention, however, is caring for caregivers themselves.

“Self-care, I learned that very early on, is paramount to my well-being, the patient’s well-being and the outcome of the treatment,” Phelps said. “The toughness wore on me overtime. I really got tired of pushing, pushing, pushing and getting results. If Frank was in need of something, ailing, hurting, it was my job to get it done.”

As far as advice is concerned, taking time for yourself and compartmentalizing emotions, is high on Phelps list of recommendations that worked for her.

Jamie Sentnor, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice, agreed that caregivers taking time for themselves and practicing self-help techniques is important.

“It’s the number one thing that we push, is caring for yourself, because we’re not good at what we want to be good at if we’re not in a good place ourselves,” Sentnor said.

Teaching people meditation, counting, and other interventions, listening to soft music and taking a bath were just a few suggestions she mentioned.


St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.