Amy Goyer, AARP’s Caregiving and Family Expert, could have used statistics and charts to bring home the point that caregiving is expensive and difficult. Instead she simply told a story – her story — of her parents failing health and their journey together as Goyer rearranged her life to gradually, and at points not so gradually, take over their care.
By the time she was finished giving her keynote address at the 35th Annual New Mexico Conference on Aging, Aug. 20th, there wasn’t one person in the 1,000 plus audience who couldn’t relate to that journey, understand the unequivocally hard work it is caring for two adults with ongoing health problems and what it costs both financially and emotionally, or the fact that Goyer without a doubt loves her parents very deeply and that they are still very much a family.
“Everyone is touched by caregiving,” Goyer said. “You are among 42 million caregivers across the country. The entire long-term caregiving system is dependent on family caregiving.”
She said that home caregivers provide work that would cost $450 billion annually – which is more that Wal-Mart makes in a year.
It is not hard to find in each family the person that tends to be a caregiver for that particular family and Goyer tended to be that person for her family, helping her parents pack up their house and move into an assisted living residence, which worked for a while.
But soon her mother began having slips and falls as her health deteriorated and her father began to show signs of Alzheimer’s’ disease and it became clear they needed more round the clock care than an assisted living facility could provide.
Goyer moved back to the family home in Arizona, leaving her life behind in Washington, D.C., and moved her parents back in with her.
In 2011, things took a turn for the worse when her mother fell and fractured her spine requiring seven hours of surgery. While in the hospital she acquired a bacterial infection and remained in the hospital for 40 days. Within a week of leaving the hospital, she suffered a stroke. In the meantime, her father’s condition continues to get worse – there are good days and bad but for now he still knows who she is.
Even among caregiving standards, Goyer has had a lot to deal with and while there is no doubt that it is very difficult work, there is also no question that she does it with love and that is what sustains her.
She took a few moments to share the lessons she has learned both through her background in aging, but more importantly her experiences:
1.) You’ve got to get help. Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help but you cannot do it all on your own. She encourages people to go online and see what help is available as technology is changing and providing more support for caregivers through things like X-ray machines that can be brought to the home.
2.) Tell your story. Goyer said, “We can change things by educating people. We create awareness when we share, when we tell people what we need.”
3.) Value what you do – because you chose to care. “You always have a choice and you are choosing to lend a helping hand. When it comes to my parents I give them a quality of life. I know I’m making a difference in their lives. We are able to do things they otherwise would not be able to do.”
4.) Create joy – “Caregiving is not for sissies. It’s hard. We celebrate the holidays. We always have flowers in the house because my mother has always loved flowers. We went out to eat to celebrate their anniversary.”
5.) Take care of yourself – “You can’t take care of someone else if you don’t take care of yourself first. Take time for yourself.”
“We can do this,” Goyer said with a smile.
For more information on caregiving visit AARP’s Caregiving Resource Center at www.aarp.org/caregiving.
(Photo Caption: AARP’s Family and Caregiving Expert Amy Goyer, center, shows Laura McGrath and Anke Mihalas, both attendees at the NM Conference on Aging, how to find caregiving resources online.)