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The Rosalynn Carter Interview (Page 3 of 4)

An Interview with Rosalynn Carter

RC:  We give an award to a family caregiver, and we try to choose people who donít get the publicity for what they do. Caregivers donít feel that what they are doing is important, so this is our way of stressing how important it is and what a family caregiver does. Weíre starting this year to give awards to professional caregivers. We have a friend who came to us to talk about his mother who was in a nursing home, and he said that those low-paid professionals who do all these wonderful things for elderly people and people with disabilities who need care donít ever get any attention for it. So, weíre going to have a big gala for them here at the Atlanta Symphony Hall, and bring in professional caregivers ... social workers, aides ... the hands-on caregivers. The man that is working with us on that is Neil Schulman who wrote the Doc Hollywood book, and heís really interested in thanking those people who have helped take care of his mother.

The reason we need to have some knowledge of caregiving is because so many people are thrown into it without knowing anything about it. My daughter-in-lawís father died suddenly and she lived five hours away. She had three little boys and she became totally responsible for her mother. It was really tough on her. Women work today, they are having fewer children, and there are so many medical advancements, people can survive tragic accidents and be incapacitated for the rest of their lives. Peopleís families live such long distances away. I know that when my mother died in 2000 at 94, she didnít want me to travel so much, she wanted me to be at home all the time, and I just couldnít. So I would call her all the time, from wherever we were, on a regular basis; but thatís hard, too. But I was the oldest, I was a daughter, I was the one who had helped her with my siblings when we were younger, so she thought I just ought to be there. Iíve had that long-distance experience as well, and there are many people in that situation. The main reason for this is because people are living so much longer.

GB:  Thatís all caregiving. Itís just as important as someone living at the house.
Sometimes people will say that they are no longer a caregiver because their loved one is in a facility, but they really are still a caregiver.

RC:  Thatís right, they are still responsible for them. I know that when my mother was in a facility for the last year-and-a-half of her life, my brother had a stroke . Neither of his sons lived in the same town as he did, so they sent him down to Plains where I live. He was in a retirement village right around the corner from my house, but he depended on me, too; totally, because I was the only there to care for him. He could kind of take care of himself, kind of get dressed, but heíd have to have someone give him his medicines. I know that he didnít like for me to be gone, so I know what itís like to be away with somebody at home that youíre responsible for. I never thought that I would be in that situation because my brother had not lived at home since he left high school.

GB:  How can people help support your work at the Rosalynn Carter Institute?

RC:  Right now weíre raising an endowment so that it can go on after Iím no longer able to raise money for it. Itís the only university-based caregiving center, which is kind of nice, and we raise money; but we do receive grants like from Johnson & Johnson and from the Area Agency on Aging.