Importance of Unpaid Family Caregivers Remains Largely Undocumented
Almost 8 million older adults with significant disabilities live in the community with help from family and unpaid caregivers. Caregivers not only provide assistance with everyday activities, they help with a range of healthcare activities, including physician visits. Given that there are 48 million Americans who are 65 years or older, this means one in eight receive help with daily activities, including healthcare tasks such as arranging services, coordinating care, and managing medications.
In a nation where “show me the data” has become a requirement for scientific research and medical care efficacy, effective change efforts must be supported by more than rhetoric. Jennifer Wolff, PhD, has focused her work on unique studies that gather data on the work of unpaid family caregivers and the benefit that care provides to the patient, the health system, and public health.
Caregiving Expert Started Career in Economics
Dr. Wolff holds a dual faculty appointment at Johns Hopkins, both in the Bloomberg School of Public Health and in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. After graduating from college with a degree in Economics, Dr. Wolff became an analyst for a healthcare data and profiling company in Baltimore. She completed a masters in health finance and management at Johns Hopkins over the next two years, which led her to positions in consulting, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and in a pharmaceutical benefits and disease management company.
In 1999, Dr. Wolff returned to Johns Hopkins to pursue a PhD in health services research. Completing the doctorate in 2003, she has assumed increasingly prestigious faculty and research roles at Johns Hopkins, while simultaneously pursuing activities to facilitate the translation of evidence to policy and practice change. She has held a two-year research appointment in the Office of Research Development and Information, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, as well as a two-year policy fellowship funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies and the John A. Hartford-Foundation.
Dr. Wolff has been invited to lead, present or participate in more than 30 advisory panels to share her expertise in partnership with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, AARP, the National Institute on Nursing Research, the National Institute on Aging and numerous other organizations and universities. She has been primary or contributing author for more than 100 peer-review published studies, has authored text chapters, and has taught and mentored many doctoral- and master-level students.
Current Studies Are Developing Prognostication Models
Continuing to advance data collection on caregiver impact, Dr. Wolff is currently the principal investigator for a four-year study, Prognostic Significance of Family Caregiver Factors for Older Adult Health Outcomes, funded by the National Institute on Aging. This study draws from linked, nationally representative disability and family caregiver surveys, administrative claims, and vital statistics files to determine whether and which family caregiver factors predict disabled older adults’ risk for all-cause hospitalization, nursing home entry, and all-cause mortality and to develop prognostic models for these outcomes. She has also pursued a line of interventional studies to improve patient-clinician communication through purposeful engagement of family, including an ongoing study of women in active treatment for breast cancer, funded by the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
At the Symposium, Dr. Wolff will contribute to a panel discussion on family caregivers, providing “the data,” and discussing gaps where more research can benefit patients, their caregivers, and the healthcare system.