Helping Caregivers Cope

Rosalynn Carter Institute offers support for those taking care of loved ones

Portrait of caregiver Pat Lambert of Albany, and his wife, Clara, who has Alzheimers in their home - Caregiving

As the caregiver for his wife, Clara, Pat Lambert of Albany receives support and in-home coaching from the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving on how to deal with her Alzheimer's disease. Photo by Kendrick Brinson

Pat Lambert had heard of support groups, but like many of his generation, talking about feelings or opening up to a stranger was like a concept from another world.

Now, he regrets his hesitation.

See also: Caregiving Resource Center.

"I wish I had sought support a couple of years earlier than I did," he said. His wife of 52 years, Clara, has Alzheimer's disease.

"I would have noticed some of the subtle changes in my wife earlier and would have known the importance of taking care of myself, too."

Lambert, 75, of Albany, received coaching from the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI) last year. He received 13 hour-long, in-home coaching sessions and participated in five small-group conference calls with other caregivers and a coach. He still gets support from them.

Coaches taught him how to pay attention to his needs, to manage Clara's sometimes difficult behavior and to express his feelings and frustrations in a constructive manner.

"We talked about some little change I could make in some of the things Clara and I might talk about," Lambert said. "We practiced some role-playing, but mostly it was just me getting educated on how much support there was for me."

He called it "the best thing that has ever happened to me."

AARP Georgia is working closely with the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving to increase awareness of caregiving in the family. RCI is an advocacy, education, research and service unit of Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus.

Caregiving needs increasing

Nationally, about 6 million adults over 65 need daily assistance to live, and that is expected to double by 2030. Roughly 1.9 million Georgians, or 16 percent of the state's population, are expected to be 65 or older by then.

Suzanne LaFollette-Black, interim state director of AARP Georgia, said there are some absolutes that will not change over the years.

"There are four things caregivers need: time, money, access to resources and emotional support," she said. "Caregiving education is important because of how it empowers the caregiver. AARP Georgia offers various caregiver education opportunities," including:

  • Powerful Tools for Caregivers: This program teaches ways to reduce stress, change negative thoughts and more effectively communicate your needs.
  • Prepare to Care: This program is aimed at reaching people who anticipate being caregivers in the near future. It provides them with steps they can take to prepare.
  • Decide.Create.Share: This program is designed to help women in their 40s, 50s and 60s craft a plan for their lives that provides a road map to security and a network of people who can assist along the way.

Next page: RCI and AARP survey. »

RCI and AARP survey

Leisa Easom, executive director of the institute, said it will be "participating soon in a caregiver assessment survey with AARP Georgia to elicit valuable information regarding the needs of the caregivers of Georgia."

The namesake of the institute, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, said the mission at RCI has evolved over the years.

"Originally, the goals of the Rosalynn Carter Institute were quite general: to improve research and teaching in human development and mental health," Carter said in email statements provided by the institute in response to questions from the AARP Bulletin.

"But soon after its establishment, we discovered the enormity of the problems caregivers face. When caregivers suffer, the quality of care they're able to provide diminishes. And if they continue to be excessively burdened, they, too, may become casualties — physically, socially and psychologically — and may even require care themselves.

"Now, the mission of the RCI is to understand the caregiving process and discover new ways to assist formal and informal caregivers."

In 1990, the RCI began a volunteer organization called Georgia CARE-NET. Volunteers from a wide variety of backgrounds interested in caregiving in west central Georgia met and planned how to address caregiver needs. The organization has become a CARE-NET Coalition with 12 CARE-NETS covering all of Georgia.

AARP Georgia is sponsoring a caregiving conference in Macon on Nov. 8 for the Middle Georgia CARE-NET. At other CARE-NET functions, AARP Georgia's presence has created a great avenue for increasing awareness, Easom said.

Bill Sanders is a freelance writer living in Acworth, Ga.

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