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North Carolina

Caregivers: Take Care of Yourself First

'Prepare to Care' and 'Powerful Tools' seminars offer support

Later Corr asks for a volunteer. She throws that person a ball that represents a caregiver task to be managed each day. Then she lobs increasingly larger balls to be held.

Soon she is tossing a beach ball — yet one more responsibility for someone whose arms are already full. Eventually, the volunteer drops everything, creating a sense of levity for the presentation but delivering a message the audience doesn't forget: "It's to prove to them they can't do it themselves," she said.

Mandy Carter, a 63-year-old Durham resident who has worked to ensure that a graying lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has the support and resources it needs, said participating in seminar panels with other caregivers can be empowering. "[We] looked at each other and said, 'I didn't know you were doing this, too.' "

Swezey's mother, Mary, died in 2010 at age 88 after moving from California and living with her daughter for three years. Swezey called caring for her the most challenging — and rewarding — experience of her life.

Because of that, Swezey will embark this month on a planned 3,000-mile walk across the country — starting in Wrightsville Beach and ending in Cambria, Calif., where her parents are buried — through 12 states. She hopes to raise $180,000 for charities, collect 6,000 "likes" on Facebook and heighten awareness for caregiving relief and support. The walk, which she calls SOAR (Seniors Obtaining Assistance and Resources) Feat 2012, will provide money to charities that assist with prescription drug copayments, low-income meal programs and respite services for caregivers.

When she tells others about the trek, everybody has a story about aging and caregiving.

"I'm not the only person who's gone through this," Swezey said.

Information on course offerings is available online at the AARP North Carolina website or by calling 1-866-389-5650 toll-free.

Also of interest: Afraid to tell your boss you're a caregiver?

Mike Gruss is a reporter living in Norfolk, Va.

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