At a recent meeting I attended, a name surfaced as a resource and possible speaker for a future caregiving forum. The individual's name is Amy Goyer, author and multigenerational family expert. It turns out that Goyer wears many hats for AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, including their family, parenting and grandparenting expert. She has a wealth of expertise in multigenerational and grandparenting issues.
AARP is a non-governmental organization and interest group whose mission is to enhance the quality of life for its members age 50 and older. The subject of grandparents intrigued me, maybe because I am not one, and because we just celebrated Grandparents Month and Grandparents Day in September. So I decided to find out more about Goyer and what she has to say about grandparents.
Amy has a "Take Care" blog on AARP's website, http://www.aarp.org, in which she describes her challenges and joy as a primary caregiver for her mom and dad, as well as provides updates on caregiving and research.
She lives in Arizona, with her parents and travels as necessary to Washington where AARP is based. This must be a difficult lifestyle, but one which enables her to take care of her parents and continue her work. She also writes articles for the website, guests regularly on AARP radio, appears on AARP's TV show, "Inside E Street," and serves as an AARP media spokesperson. She is even on Twitter and Facebook. Goyer has all the social media bases covered.
I reviewed a number of Goyer's articles and found them highly informative; some about her as caregiver to her parents were obviously very personal and sensitive.
Get fit with grandkids
One of Amy's articles encourages grandparents to get active and fit with their grandkids. This is a win-win situation because we are always hearing about how there are so many overweight children, and adults for that matter.
Exercise activities are also a way to bond with grandchildren and your own children. Goyer recommends five fitness activities to share together: hiking, tai chi, golf,yoga and exergaming. For hiking, Amy advises a somewhat challenging, but not too strenuous path, where you can learn something or look for scavenger hunt items along the way, like a butterfly, wildflower, or oak leaf.
On a visit to China, Goyer was amazed at the groups of older adults and young children practicing tai chi in the parks, to develop physical and mental harmony.
"It is a powerful multigenerational activity because it is gentle and noncompetitive. It also can be adapted to varying physical abilities," Goyer said.
If you already play golf, teach your grandkids or play miniature golf with them. Find a gentle intergenerational yoga class where you and your grandkids can build strength, muscle tone, coordination and balance. Video game systems geared for fitness, such as the Nintendo Wii, are a fun way to get the generations exercising together.
As a follow up to an AARP report, "Valuing the Invaluable," Goyer wrote an article titled "Valuing the Invaluable — Me." In her article, she states, "The value of over 40 billion hours of care that 62 million family members provided for loved ones in 2009 came to $450 billion.
That's as much or more that the total sales of all three of the largest automakers (Toyota, Ford and Daimler) combined. Or the annual sales of Wal-Mart. Put another way - it equals the Gross Domestic Product of a small European country such as Belgium. That's up more than 20 percent just since 2007 when the value was $375 billion.
Why? Increases in numbers of caregivers, hours of care and also the estimated value (from $10 to $11 an hour). Amy said that this put a dollar value on her as a caregiver. She said, "I know my parents feel I'm invaluable, but I didn't realize anyone else did!"
Grandparents Information Center
Another hat Goyer wears is coordinator of the AARP Foundation Grandparents Information Center. This is a resource and support for grandparents in their many roles and responsibilities, including caregiving. Check out her articles online, such as "More Grandparents Raising Grandkids," "5 Ways to Teach Grandkids About Giving," "Resources to help you raise your grandchildren," and "Ways to volunteer at your grandchild's school."
You can also read about grandparents on a mission and what these individuals are doing to make a difference at local, state and national levels. One grandmother is raising a grandson and is co-founder of GrandFamilies of America, which works to preserve family ties and heritage for future generations.
Another grandmother, who lived for many years with the heartbreak of not being able to see her grandchildren, is co-founder of the National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights, whose vision is for all children to have healthy and stable relationships with their grandparents and other relatives.
Grandparents and autism
Another Goyer article that I found quite interesting is about grandparents and autistic grandchildren, titled "Grandparents Often ID Autistic Traits." A 2010 study by the Interactive Autism Network revealed the vital role older relatives play in the lives of autistic grandchildren.
Key findings from the survey note that grandparents are often the first to notice symptoms of autism in their grandchildren, and they play a significant part in providing both practical and financial assistance after a child is diagnosed with the disorder.
This online survey, sponsored by Autism Speaks, is believed to be the first-ever analysis of the role that grandparents play in dealing with autistic children.
I checked out Goyer's Facebook page and the first item at the top of her wall is an article that really popped out at me. It provided information that I had never heard before. The item isn't written by Goyer, but is the work of Michael Haederle published in the Aug. 9, 2011 AARP Bulletin.
It is titled "An Eye Test Aids Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease." Shaun Frost, an Australian researcher, reports that a noninvasive retinal scan that measures the width of blood vessels in the back of the eye shows promise as a way to help diagnose Alzheimer's disease in its early stages. The scientist found that blood vessel changes in the light-sensitive tissue of the retina reflect an accumulation of amyloid plaque in the brain, thought to be an early sign of Alzheimer's.
"We're seeing signs of the plaque burden increasing in the brain a long time before we see the cognitive deficits of Alzheimer's disease," Frost said during his presentation at the 2011 Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Paris in June.
Frost found that in people with Alzheimer's disease, the retinal veins get smaller and the arteries appear to get bigger, proportionately. Dr. William Klunk, an Alzheimer's expert at the University of Pittsburgh, said that this simpler test could be used to help identify people who are candidates to undergo one of the more invasive, expensive tests. He also described Frost's work as a "very important piece of a several-piece puzzle."
I have only touched the surface here. Just Google Goyer and AARP and you will find a wealth of tips, tools, resources and helpful information to use in your role as a grandparent.