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May. 14, 2019

By Carol Zernial, WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director

Caregiving can actually be very similar to trying to conquer the seven kingdoms or the known world. Just like the HBO series, A Game of Thrones, caregiving has its own magical qualities, mythical beasts, loyal banner men and women, and schemers who may be working against us. Some of us are redeemed in the process of caregiving; others of us barely survive in one piece. Some of us may even come back from the dead a time or two throughout our caregiving journey.

In a Game of Caregivers, I see myself as coming from House Stark at Winterfell. Winter is my favorite season. While I’m not sure I know exactly what a dire wolf is, I do know Dire Straits, and music is a welcome addition to life in the castle. Like most of the House Stark, I feel like I come to caregiving with honorable intent. I want to help and make life better for my loved ones. But like everyone who gets themselves killed in the series, I am not without character flaws that put me in danger. I need good advisers to point out my blind spots and provide guidance. The banner or flag for my caregiving house would probably feature something like a cupcake. Forget fierce animals, I’d really rather be eating. Good food inspires my house and helps all of us overcome great adversity.

My loyal banner men and women are friends and relatives who help me and even have larger caregiving roles than me. They jump in to bring take-out food when a meal is needed. They call just to check in.  They provide rides or mow lawns.  They can complain along the way, but many of them show up to help over and over again. I can’t be Queen of the North without someone to do the day-to-day work, and so I have great appreciation and gratitude to all who share my burden.

Alzheimer’s is the evil Queen Circe of my world. She doesn’t care who she hurts. She has no compassion and no mercy. She tears families apart and is unstoppable. However, she has no true friends, and everyone is out to get her. I believe she will lose in the end, and we will conquer her in some grand finale.

Doctors can be a bit like Jamie Lannister, Little Finger, or Varys. We think they are on our side. But at times, we’re wondering if they are working against us. They confuse us with the myriad of appointments, the changes in medications, the conflicting advice. We need to separate those we can really count on for sound advice or support, and exile the rest to some remote region where there be dragons.

And who is the Night King and the Army of the Dead of the caregiving world? They are a caregivers worst fears – literally. We are afraid we’re not doing enough. We’re afraid we could do better. We’re afraid we can’t do this anymore. We’re afraid of losing our loved one. Overcoming our fears is the hardest battle a caregiver may face.

How is this Game of Caregiving going to end? At this point, we don’t really know. Like the television story, there are some forces we can’t control. But if we can get the people who can take away fears inside our castle walls, join forces to fight our true enemies, eliminate the intrigue, and find something good to eat – we might find ourselves sitting on the Iron Throne in the finale.

WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director Carol Zernial is a noted gerontologist, radio show host, and emeritus Chair of the National Council on Aging. The non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation focuses on complimentary programs impacting seniors and family caregivers, including weekly telephone learning sessions, evidence-based classes on stress reduction and more. Find out more at or toll-free at 1-866-390-6491.

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