Pope County Man Spreads the News About Caregiver Training

By Katrina Dupins

Guess was the primary caregiver for his mother until she passed away in 2016 at the age of 100. The following year, he sat in on

Syble Guess

Don Guess’ mother, Syble Guess.

a presentation from the UAMS Arkansas Geriatric Education Collaborative (AGEC) about caregiving and realized there was a lot he could have learned in that training. AGEC is a program of the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging.

“While I was trying to be a good son to my mother, I did so many things wrong,” Guess said. “After the presentation, I asked them to come to Russellville for training and they did. They were so kind.”

There were 110 people present at the first Russellville training. Two hours after it ended, Guess says his phone began to ring incessantly. People left the training and started telling others about it.

“We have yet to have a negative word said about the four meetings that this group has conducted in Russellville,” Guess said.

Laura Spradley is the outreach coordinator for AGEC. She says everyone who works with Guess describes him as loving, kind and selfless.

“When he heard about our caregiver training in 2018, he hit the ground running. He wanted to tell everyone he knew in Pope County,” Spradley said. “He’s been an answer to our prayers in helping spread the word.”

Laura Spradley

Laura Spradley is the outreach coordinator for the Arkansas Geriatric Education Collaborative.

The AGEC recently received a five-year grant of $3.74 million to provide healthy aging programs throughout the state. One focal point will be training for those caring for loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

One in four adults in Arkansas care for a loved one, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many of them, the time commitment exceeds 20 hours a week.

“You’re doing everything from managing the finances, household chores and grocery shopping to taking this person to the doctor,” Spradley said. “You’re basically an unpaid case manager. That is in addition to whatever else you might be doing for your own life, family and career. It’s a huge job.”

The CDC estimates that one in seven non-caregivers will become caregivers in the next two years. Spradley says it is imperative to help people find out about the job, particularly when dealing with someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

“We tell people they have to remember that person is the same person they’ve always loved. We’re here to help give them the tools to better be able to cope, remain patient and continue to love the person as the disease progresses,” Spradley said.

Spradley encourages caregivers to meet their loved ones where they are and to make sure his or her affairs are in order before the disease progresses.

“It’s important to have all those things worked out in the beginning,” Spradley said. “Knowing how a person wants to live the remainder of their life is important and it gives the caregiver peace of mind knowing they’re doing what their loved one wants.”

Spradley says to focus on the person’s abilities instead of his or her limitations. Guess thought he was being kind and gentle to his mom when he told her she is not able to do drive or do her laundry. In the training, he learned that might have been upsetting to her.

“They may not remember what they did yesterday or what you told them yesterday,” Spradley said. “We encourage caregivers to just be in the moment with them. If they think the year is 1960, engage them in reminiscing. It’s helpful to have old photos around to be able to talk about things that happened in the past if they want.”

“We want them to keep coming back. They are encouraging and inspiring to caregivers,” Guess said. “There is such a need for this kind of training.”

For many years, the AGEC has provided training to improve health outcomes and quality of health care for older Arkansans through research, education and training. Click here for a list of class locations and schedules.