Sheehy shares caregiving secrets for ‘Successful Aging’

Taking ‘aging gracefully’ to the next level, the Alzheimer & Parkinson Association of Indian River County drew a full house to the Oak Harbor Club last Friday for its inaugural Successful Aging Luncheon featuring guest speaker Gail Sheehy.

In her welcome, Peggy Cunningham, Alzheimer & Parkinson executive director, said they hope to host a nationally recognized speaker each spring to speak about wellness, longevity and successful aging. She noted that proceeds from the event will help fund programs and services that assist local families and caregivers who are trying to manage the daily care of individuals with dementia or movement disorders.

Presenting sponsor and board member Trudie Rainone introduced Sheehy, a world-renowned, award-winning author, journalist and lecturer, saying, “Gail Sheehy has changed the way millions of men and women around the world look at the stages of their lives.”

Sheehy’s New York Times-bestselling 1976 book “Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life” addressed the developmental stages of adults. In her follow-up 2010 book, “Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence,” Sheehy delved into her labyrinthine role of caregiver during the 17 years following the cancer diagnosis of her late husband, Clay Felker, founder of New York Magazine.

Sheehy recognized the caregivers in the audience – family members and professionals – saying “you are the backbone holding up our mostly broken healthcare system.”

She said it generally takes a long time for people to realize and accept that they have a new role – that of family caregiver. “It’s a job nobody applies for, we don’t expect it, most of us won’t be prepared,” said Sheehy. She added that 60 million Americans struggle along that unpredictable path, as a caregiver for another adult who was once independent.

“The secret of caregiving success took me years to discover. Quite simply, we cannot do it alone; no one can. We must create a circle of care,” said Sheehy, describing a network of familial and outside support.  “And then we have to come to believe that we deserve to ask for help.”

Describing the eight stages or ‘crisis points’ faced by caregiver and patient alike, Sheehy shared with the audience the challenging and emotional journey she and Felker experienced, from the initial shock of diagnosis through to the ‘long goodbye.’

The Alzheimer and Parkinson Association offers free Social Respite programs at its Center for Memory and Motion in Vero Beach and at off-site locations in Gifford and Sebastian. The program provides caregivers with several hours of time for themselves, confident that their loved ones are in a safe, social environment.

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Photos by: Denise Ritchie
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