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Sherri Richards, Published September 26 2013

Caregivers can make choices, expert says

FARGO – Amy Goyer moved away from her house, her boyfriend, her established East Coast life four years ago to care for her parents in Arizona.

Her father, Robert, is nearly 90 and has Alzheimer’s disease. Her mother, Patricia, 87, suffered a stroke more than 20 years ago and has struggled with a wide range of health problems in recent years.

The stress of caregiving has caused Goyer, 52, to experience her own health issues. But it’s not something she resents or would change. She stresses she’s not just trying to keep them alive, but give them a great quality of life.

“It’s so arduous, all of this managing and paperwork … It’s so easy to miss the rewards and the fulfillments and benefits of being caregivers,” says Goyer, the AARP’s expert on aging and family.

Goyer addresses caregiving, grandparenting and multi-generational issues in her writing and video blogs.

She will speak in Fargo next week during the 2013 Northern Plains Conference on Aging and Disability, slated for Tuesday through Thursday at the Ramada Plaza Suites.

The goal of the conference is not just to provide education to professionals in the aging and disability, but to those who live it every day as well, says Brian Arett, executive director of Valley Senior Services, who serves on the conference’s planning committee.

As the baby-boomer population ages, an AARP study shows that demographically the number of potential caregivers for every person age 80-plus will decrease from 7 in 2010 to 4 in 2030 to 3 in 2050.

Part of the solution to this problem will be educating people on how they can help themselves, Arett says, providing knowledge on resources and services, through events such as next week’s conference.

Goyer focuses on bolstering the support offered to current caregivers, with changes to national policy, more affordable home care options, access to resources in rural areas, and personal reflection and empowerment.

Goyer first stayed in her parents’ house while they were in an assisted-living facility, taking them grocery shopping and to doctor appointments.

They’re now all together in the house, with the help of a live-in caregiver five days a week and, when Goyer travels, her sister from Ohio.

Her new e-book “Juggling Work and Caregiving” can be downloaded for free at http://aarp.org/caregivingbook.

She talked to The Forum this week about her caregiving experience.

Q Caregiving obviously changed your life, but how did it change you personally?

A I think I’ve learned so much about myself in this process. In the beginning I kept trying to get things under control, to have a routine. When you’re caregiving that doesn’t work, because it’s a constantly changing situation.

My goal now is to really be able to, as they say, roll with the punches, to be able to deal with the ups and downs and remain steady and constantly tell myself I can’t control these other things but I can control my attitude.

Q What has helped in managing stress?

A I’ve learned very much to be mindful and to be focused on what I’m doing when I’m doing it.

Those of us juggling work and caregiving, there’s always going to be so many things in your head, swimming around. If you don’t focus on what you’re doing when you’re doing it, nothing gets your full attention, nothing gets your full energy.

When I’m with my parents, I’m with my parents. When I’m working, I’m focused on working. It may be a 15-minute interval. I have to be able to switch that very quickly and be mindful of where I am at the time.

Living with someone with Alzheimer’s, they are in the moment, moment to moment. I have to be there with him in the current moment. That’s helped me to take the time to live and enjoy and cherish every moment I have with them.

Q What message do you want to share with conference attendees?

A I really want to try to get across to people, this is a choice. Many people feel they don’t have a choice when they’re in a caregiving situation. “I had to do this because nobody else would.” The truth is everything is a choice.

That’s helpful when you’re frustrated and exhausted, when you can’t deal with it any more. “I chose this and that makes me special.” “I chose to do this work and I’m choosing every day to take care of someone.”

To value ourselves and what we’re doing lowers the stress experience.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556