For more than 20 years, Linda Nichols, PhD, professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, has worked to improve the lives of caregivers of older adults.
The Gerontological Society of America has recognized her efforts by naming her one of its 2015 Fellows. The recognition, the highest class of membership within the society, is an acknowledgement of outstanding continuing work in gerontology, including research, teaching, administration, public service, practice and participation in the organization.
“It makes me feel like I have done good work,” said Dr. Nichols, who is also co-director of the Caregiver Center at the Memphis VA Medical Center with Jennifer Martindale-Adams, EdD, associate professor in the UTHSC Department of Preventive Medicine. “That’s what it’s all about — doing good things and doing things that really matter for people.”
Fifty-eight fellows were selected and will be honored at the society’s annual scientific meeting in November in Orlando. Dr. Nichols was among those recognized for social research, policy and practice.
Roughly 20 years ago, Dr. Nichols began working on early studies to identify problems of family caregivers of the elderly. She has continued the work, translating research findings into practical protocols to help family caregivers maintain and improve their health and live better lives by managing stress, solving financial issues and accessing logistical aid.
“We couldn’t exist as a society without family caregiving,” Dr. Nichols said. “The value of family caregiving is more than the amount of money we spend on formal home care and nursing home care.
“We expect caregivers to do so many things, yet they are also struggling,” she said. “They have their own issues, and caregiving can have huge physical and emotional consequences.”
Dr. Nichols, Dr. Martindale-Adams and Robert Burns, MD, professor in the UTHSC Department of Preventive Medicine, are now training others across the country to help caregivers cope. “I think we have raised the profile of caregiving,” she said. “We have given clinicians tools to work with caregivers.”
Last fall, Dr. Nichols received another career accolade. She was selected to serve on the Institute of Medicine Family Caregiving Committee, which makes national recommendations on policy regarding family caregivers of older adults.
“They’re both really huge honors, and it kind of validates everything I’ve done,” she said.
The Gerontological Society of America is the nation’s oldest and largest organization devoted to research, education and practice in the field of aging.