Meet the Team- Dr. Kylie Meyer
Last month we began a series on getting to know our team and this month we are highlighting Dr. Kylie Meyer. Read more about Caring for the Caregiver team member Dr. Kylie Meyer below.
Hello! My name is Kylie Meyer. I am a gerontological researcher at the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing Caring for the Caregiver Program. As a gerontologist, I get to study aging. Not so much the biological aspects of aging—shortening telomeres and such—but the social and psychological aspects of aging. For example, did you know that older adults have a more positive outlook on life than younger people? It’s called the positivity effect, and researchers think it may have helped older people to stay resilient during COVID-19. Pretty cool, right?
During the last two years, I’ve learned so much about you, the Caring for the Caregiver Community. I’ve learned about your worries and your successes with caregiving, through Zoom interviews and online surveys. Your stories have helped our team to build knowledge that is helping us to better support families who are living with dementia. Because you have shared so much about yourselves with me, I want to take an opportunity to let you know who I am and why I conduct the studies that I do.
My interest in gerontology—and later caregiving— began when I was a kid. My dad brought my sister and I to visit my great-grandmother and then my great-great-aunt each weekend, especially after they couldn’t live alone any longer and moved into skilled care facilities. My Aunt Mary is, to this day, my aging role model. “She’s a tough old broad,” my dad would say, admiringly, but she also loved children and had a soft spot for me and my sister.
When I grew older and needed to complete high school volunteer hours to graduate, I continued this weekend ritual by helping during Saturday morning bingo at a nursing facility. The weekend activity director, Dale, called out numbers with gusto and made a fuss whenever a resident won a game. Still, some of what I observed at the facility made me uneasy. Staff barging into resident rooms unannounced. Talking to residents like children. A low oxygen tank that wasn’t noticed until a resident dozed off for the third time during bingo.
During college, I continued to volunteer: a grassroots advocacy organization for quality long-term care, memory care facilities, the Area Agency on Aging. At the same time, my grandmother began showing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease, and my grandfather struggled to accept that she needed more help. This was a devastating change for him. To my grandfather, my grandmother was royalty, and I don’t think a day went by that he wasn’t grateful to be married to her. But now, he was asked not only to be her husband but also her caregiver.
You should know, if you’ve participated in the Daily Study of Caregiving Relationships and Health, it was my grandparent’s story that inspired some of the research questions this study aimed to answer. How is a spouse affected when the person you love no longer expresses how much they care about you, or it when affection looks different than it once did? As a researcher, I want to answer this question to help others who are navigating changing relationships when caring for a spouse living with dementia. On a personal level, I wanted to know what my grandfather experienced, and how he continued to treat my grandmother like a queen until her last day.
Over time, my interest in caregiving grew, and I built an expertise in interventions programs to support family caregivers. One of these programs is called KINDER (Knowledge and Interpersonal Skills to Develop Exemplary Relationships). KINDER was made to help family members to learn how to provide high-quality care by supporting healthy relationships. Last week, in an interview about the program, a caregiver told me, “I think it’s a game-changer in our lives. I really do.” If the research and service we do at Caring for the Caregiver can help families like mine, then my life has meaning, and I am satisfied.
Aging, they say, is not for the faint of heart. I would add that this is especially true in our society, where policies have not kept pace with the needs of an aging population nor the needs of the family caregivers. Caregivers, please know that you are seen. We, at Caring for the Caregiver, hear you. We appreciate you. Thank you for filling out all the surveys, sharing your stories, and giving so much of yourselves to ensure our community is more prepared to support older adults and caregivers.