Amy Goyer walks the talk she delivers to caregivers, and she will trace her footsteps in the role as a keynote speaker at the Vital Aging Conference on June 12 in La Crosse.
One of the most important things caregivers must do is make time to recharge their own batteries to avoid burnout, the author and expert on aging and family for AARP said during an interview previewing her presentation.
The fifth annual conference, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with registration starting at 8 a.m., at Cartwright Center on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, is subtitled “Celebrate the Wisdom of Aging.”
The theme has a purpose, said Noreen Holmes, director of the La Crosse County Aging Unit.
Many such gatherings offer cholesterol tests, blood pressure screenings and blood sugar evaluations, she said, adding, “That is all well and good, but there is more to life than just those numbers.”
“We wanted to celebrate aging, when people are wiser, more experienced and life is much calmer,” Holmes said.
“In our culture, we act like aging is going downhill, and then you die, while other cultures celebrate aging and respect older people,” she said.
Holmes cited the work of “Blue Zones” author Dan Buettner, who has done global surveys of longevity.
“People who lived longest had purpose in their life, a reason to get up in the morning,” she said. “They maintained vitality and passion in aging.”
Holmes hopes that Goyer’s appearance, courtesy of AARP, will increase attendance from its traditional 200.
Goyer, 53, became a caregiver as a sophomore in college in Ohio, looking after her grandparents, who lived six hours away in South Bend, Ind.
“I was the local relative,” said Goyer, who earned a degree in music therapy that she has enlisted in working with the elderly as well as children.
When she was 29, her mother had a stroke at the age of 63, requiring Goyer to travel frequently from her job in Washington, D.C., to her parents’ home in Arizona, where her father headed the communications department at Arizona State University.
She arranged to telecommute and moved to their home as her mother worsened and her father developed Alzheimer’s in 2008, she said. Her mom died six months ago, and she continues to care for her father, telecommute and travel regularly for AARP and speaking engagements.
“The biggest challenge in taking care of the people I love and myself is finding the balance,” she said.
Goyer is not alone, being one of an estimated 42 million caregivers nationwide caring for parents, spouses and others while also maintaining a job. Her ebook “Juggling Work and Caregiving,” details her own caregiving experiences and provides advice for others trying to balance the two roles, as well as personal relationships.
Her own relationship presents an extraordinary challenge, because her boyfriend of seven years, Bill Carter, lives in Baltimore. They make a point to see each other several times a year, as well as text and Skype regularly to maintain the relationship, she said.
“I’m lucky that we share the same values, and he’s 100 percent behind me,” she said.
Carter, who is retired and whose mother also needs care, said as much in a Valentine’s Day blog post with his observations about their long-distance relationship.
Goyer advises caregivers to “make sure you do things to nurture yourself and fill yourself up. Call a friend, go for a walk, having a cup of coffee,” she said, adding that no formula applies to all.
Not wanting to tip her full hand about her conference talk, Goyer said she will stress the happy side, too.
“Caregiving is not all gloom and doom. We have to create joy in the experience,” she said. “I have made huge sacrifices, but I have learned to create joy in my life, with getaways and friends.”
Along those lines, laughter will be the topic for another keynoter, Brian Uderman of Ivy Hills Communication and online education director at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Udermann will show participants how laughing more can improve health.
Caregiving also offers its own reward of satisfaction, Goyer said.
“The greatest is knowing that I’m giving my parents a feeling of safety and security to let them know they are loved,” she said. “Mom died six months ago, and my favorite picture of them is them all draped in blankets, watching TV. I know I gave them that security.”