By Ann Hardie
Romell Cooks knows the ins and outs of caregiving: Her father lived to be 94, her mother 100.
Now Cooks is among the AARP Georgia volunteers who conduct a workshop called Prepare to Care, which helps people plan for the role of family caregiver. The workshop is designed to complement AARP’s how-to publication “Prepare to Care: A Planning Guide for Families.”
“Unfortunately, most families don’t have a caregiving plan in place. This workshop tells you how to make a plan before the situation becomes a critical need,” said Cooks, 72, a retired federal employee who lives in Augusta. “The workshop is not only about the aging parent or the disabled adult who will need care, it is also about helping caregivers care for themselves.”
Most important, the workshop stresses that caregivers involve the recipients in the planning and decision-making. This isn’t always easy.
“With my mom, the most difficult part was getting her to understand that she was going to need help,” Cooks said. “Looking at creative ways to get this conversation started is one of the first things we talk about in the course.”
$14 billion in services
Caregiving is a top priority of AARP Georgia. More than 1.3 million Georgians are family caregivers, providing unpaid services valued at $14 billion annually, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute. But there is a very real cost, both in terms of money and the wear and tear on the caregiver, said Debra Tyler-Horton, state director of AARP Georgia.
“The reality is, we are living longer,” Tyler-Horton said. “AARP has an opportunity to put a lot of emphasis on aging and caregiving and the tools and resources needed.”
She stressed that today’s caregivers represent all ages—older spouses, middle-age children, even grandchildren—and may have different demands. “Caregiving is intergenerational,” she said. “It crosses all boundaries.”
The demands of caregiving are why AARP Georgia is now training volunteers around the state to hold hour-long workshops using the “Prepare to Care” publication. The free workshops have drawn a variety of participants, from caregivers to health care professionals to organizations that serve the older population. Workshop training takes place in government offices, churches, senior centers, nursing homes and elsewhere.
“There isn’t any organization that wouldn’t benefit from this training,” Cooks said. “Just like you learn to manage your finances and balance your checkbook, learning to be a caregiver should be part of lifelong learning.”
Cooks ticked off some questions that caregivers need to think through. Who is going to take care of their loved one’s finances? Who is going to be responsible for getting them to doctor visits? Who will make the health care decisions? What does the Alzheimer’s Association do? What about the Area Agencies on Aging? What does the local health department offer?
The workshop also emphasizes that caregiving should not be done in a vacuum.
“Caregiving is a tremendous amount of work for a person who may also have a job and kids and a spouse,” Cooks said. “The workshop tells you how to build a caregiving team and who ought to be on that team.” The team is especially critical, Cooks said, if the primary caregiver lives in another city or state.
The workshop pertains to everyone, Cooks said. “You either are already a caregiver, you are going to be a caregiver, or you may need a caregiver someday yourself.”
You can download a free version of “Prepare to Care: A Planning Guide for Families” at aarp.org/preparetocare.
To receive a free hard copy or to find out more about holding or attending a workshop, contact AARP Georgia at 866-295-7281 toll-free or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on caregiving or AARP’s efforts to support caregivers, go to aarp.org/caregiving.
Ann Hardie is a writer living in Atlanta.