By Miriam Davidson
In their 27 years together, makeup artist George Burson, 65, and husband David Samora, 58, have learned a thing or two about caregiving.
The Phoenix couple, married in 2014, cared for Samora’s mother and Burson’s father. Both died of Alzheimer’s disease. They currently care for Gina, Burson’s 88-year-old mother, who has heart problems, diabetes and kidney issues—but not Alzheimer’s.
“Her memory and hearing are probably better than mine,” Burson said.
Caring for relatives—with and without dementia—has given the couple insight and expertise they’re sharing with others. They have appeared in a video talking about their experiences for Duet, a Phoenix-based group that assists older adults and caregivers.
Burson, Samora and Duet are part of a growing network of Arizona family caregivers and organizations providing mutual support. AARP is participating by bringing caregivers together, answering questions and introducing them to available services.
Jantell Cansler knows the importance of support. She told a harrowing story of how she had to call a friend at the Region One Area Agency on Aging when paramedics refused to take her mother to the hospital after a fall. “They said, ‘Oh, she’s fine.’ Turned out, she was having a stroke.”
Cansler said the friend’s insistence that she go to the hospital gave her mother “a few more months and better quality of life.”
Now an intern in the AARP Phoenix office, Cansler helps provide information about the Area Agency on Aging, Duet and other organizations at gatherings called CAREversations.
“CAREversations are fantastic,” she said. “You can trade ideas, ask questions, get real-life answers and be part of a community of caregivers who really care about each other as well.”
AARP has been conducting CAREversations in 34 cities nationwide, including Phoenix, for about a year. These free two-hour gatherings for up to 40 people feature a program loosely structured around AARP’s “Prepare to Care” guidebook.
Participants break into small groups to discuss how to start a family conversation about who provides care, making a plan, finding support and caring for yourself. Participants then reconvene to share what they’ve learned.
Many attendees are new to caregiving, said Jack Babb, AARP community program manager who leads the CAREversations. Some, like Cansler, are experienced caregivers interested in helping others.
In addition to the guidebook (at aarptek.org/caregiving), attendees receive information on how to contact agencies and groups such as the Arizona Caregiver Coalition.
Participants also receive a copy of AARP Arizona’s 2017 Phoenix Metro Caregiver Resource Guide.
“The amount of stuff we give them can be overwhelming,” Babb said. “I tell people to take it in small amounts and focus on their individual needs.”
Nine CAREversations open to all are scheduled for the Phoenix area this year, including Aug. 12, 17 and 24. Registration starts about six weeks before the event.
Go to aarptek.org/workshops (under Arizona, look for Phoenix- CAREversations), or call 866-591-8105 toll-free.
Miriam Davidson is a writer living in Tucson.