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Mountainland Association of Governments conference will connect the caregiver community

What: Mountainland Association of Governments Caregivers Conference

When: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5

Cost: Free, but registration is required

Web: mountainland.org/cgconference

Providing care for a senior family member is a labor of love, but it can also become a health risk to the caregiver.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in a survey from 2015-17 that 53% of caregivers reported a decline in their health, and experienced economic hardships due to medical expenses and lost wages. And in 1999, a Stanford University study revealed that 40% of caregivers died before their patients.

This is why Mountainland Association of Governments Aging Services presents its annual Caregiver Conference, said Stephanie Benson, MAG Aging Services public relations coordinator.

“We want caregivers to know they are not alone and we are here for them,” she said.

This year’s conference titled “Calm Amidst the Storm,” will be virtual, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5.

The event is free, but registration is required. Registrants will be given a link to the conference.

“It’s been exciting putting this together to meet the needs of people we haven’t been able to reach before, because meeting in person isn’t always plausible for some of the caregivers,” Benson said.

By going virtual, the conference has removed any geographical limitations, she said.

“Of course, we are focusing on our services in Utah, Wasatch and Summit counties, but we are opening things up to anyone who is in need of help,” Benson said. “The farthest reach we have in terms of attendees is someone from Tennessee, who heard of us from a friend.”

The conference will feature speakers and facilitators that present everything from local resources, self-care and legal advice, Benson said.

Many of the presenters are from a caregiver coalition in Utah County.

“They are members of the community — for example a lawyer, a physical therapist, and other people from all different backgrounds in senior service,” Benson said. “We asked some of them to participate.”

One of the presenters is Geri Lehnardt, who started the MAG Caregiver Program in 1999.

“She will talk about the benefits of support groups, and will demystify them to make them look a little less scary,” Benson said. “Sometimes people won’t join a support group, because sometimes it’s hard or overwhelming to ask for help.”

Another presenter is the conference’s keynote speaker, Dr. Susan R. Madsen, the inaugural Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University, Benson said.

Madsen is the founding director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project, which focuses on strengthening the impact of Utah girls and women.

“We’re excited to have her talk about the balance of caregiver, career and community, and what that looks like,” Benson said.

The conference will also address different kinds of caregiving.

“There are a lot of ways to define caregivers, and the level of care they provide,” Benson said. “They can be family members, friends or neighbors.”

One the fastest growing groups of caregivers is known as the Sandwich Generation, she said.

“They are the ones who are raising their own families while caring for their parents or elder relatives,” Benson said.

Not all the presentations are academic in the traditional sense, according to Benson.

“We will also have a meditation session, which is much needed,” she said. “One of the biggest challenges for caregivers is self-care. So many of them push their own needs aside, and in doing so, they don’t focus a lot of attention on themselves. But as a caregiver, if you’re burnt out, you cannot provide the care required.”

Although the conference runs 10 hours, caregivers don’t have to attend every session, according to Benson.

“Caregivers have varying schedules, different needs and wants, as those who they are caring for,” she said. “So we wanted to have a great schedule throughout the day so people can tune in whenever they can. They can come in and out during the day and hit the sessions that will benefit them the most on their caregiver journey.”

Although the conference is presented in a virtual format, MAG wants to build a sense of camaraderie and support, Benson said.

“It can be isolating to be a caregiver, especially with the type of year we’ve had,” she said. “Isolation is difficult, and it’s easy for caregivers to feel stuck at home and not have another outlet or someone else to talk with. So we want the conference to show them that they are not alone.”


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