Editor’s Note: The John A. Hartford Foundation is collaborating with ASA to advance equity in aging by supporting ASA RISE, a 20-week social justice and leadership program for rising leaders of color in aging, and via the development and dissemination of equity-related, partnership-based thought leadership through ASA’s Generations platform. This blog post is part of that series.
I've been urging those involved in various fields of aging, since I began speaking out, to engage more with journalists—to identify local reporters in markets across the country who can be the messengers to reach more citizens facing these challenges. I'm thrilled to know ASA recently managed press around Ageism Awareness Day and ran into many questions from members about how, exactly, to work with the modern-day press.
How does one quickly engage a room full of professional journalists when the topic at hand is family caregiving?
I believe the answer to that question is to engage journalists at as many opportunities as possible. When those who have lived the caregiving experience or who work in the field of aging share real experiences, it can help journalists to better understand the complex and intertwined issues at play.
I am a broadcast journalist by profession, turned family caregiver, turned educator and advocate. My professional role is that of a communications consultant.
My personal role? I cared for my elderly and now deceased mother during her final years. That experience gave me more knowledge about caregiving than I ever could have gleaned from a book.
My mother died in September 2020. Since then, I have been a vocal mouthpiece about my experiences and lessons learned along the way. I am proud to create articles and video interviews for my platform, Keeping It REAL Caregiving, and strive to work with other outlets as well.
The goal is to help more people understand the family caregiving landscape. I believe in preparing for the worst yet hoping for the absolute best and sharing real stories.
This year, I pitched a session focused on family caregiving to the Society of Professional Journalists for its 2023 Annual Conference. It was accepted and called, Telling Impactful Stories at the Intersections of Aging, Equity, Caregiving, the Environment and Advocacy.
I invited my fellow 2022 ASA RISE Fellows, Dr. Norman Jackson, a gerontologist with San Diego State University, and Jennifer Horn, MSW, SWC, a care planner with the PPACG Area Agency on Aging in Colorado, to present, and offer their professional perspectives.
Adult Diapers: Let’s Keep it REAL
Journalists can be a tough crowd. Often, we view issues through the lens of stories and characters. I knew I needed to immediately grab the attention of the audience and keep it. So, I told a real story. About adult diapers.
The first time I recall discussing this topic was with a friend more than 10 years ago. At that time, she had just stepped into the role of family caregiver to her elderly mother.
Our exchange that day was slightly comedic, but memorable and educational.
“Don’t get the cheap generic ones,” my friend sternly warned. “The elastic around the legs is flimsy. Mom had an accident and I could see urine trickling down her leg, dripping into her shoe!”
We laughed at the absurdity of the situation, but just behind the chuckles was a bit of fear and sadness. We both sensed this would be our continuing reality as we cared for our mothers.
‘I felt like I was being swallowed-up by the sheer enormity of the necessary daily tasks.’
Launching my presentation with a real, honest and challenging moment commanded the room’s attention.
It allowed me to then talk about the practical caregiving aspects, including the need for increased education and media coverage of how Medicare works, in-home care and rules and regulations, identifying services, the costs of care, the need to understand acronyms such as SNF, ALF, ADL, UTI, and why not knowing could be dangerous, costly, and or in some cases, deadly.
Many in the audience took notes. Others were nodding their heads, or expressing looks of disbelief or anger.
Dr. Jackson provided an in-depth overview of population growth trends and the need for a well-trained workforce in the field of gerontology.
He explained how California’s Master Plan for Aging is charting a deliberate course to address providing care and services for families. He spoke passionately about his work, and the importance of educating others.
Horn painted a picture of some of her clients and the work she performs. In an often-overlooked topic, she outlined some of the unique challenges faced by members of an older LGBTQ community in housing, services and being treated with dignity.
She told the story of an immigrant woman who for years feared she might lose her home due to bureaucracy (perhaps wrapped in ageism). Those fears were realized as the woman aged and faced mental decline.
Stories Make Statistics Real
I take great pride in being a trained journalist. When I took on the role of caregiver, I thought my ability to know how to dig out information, ask questions, research organizations, and stand my ground when advocating for my mother would come in handy.
I thought I was well-prepared and knowledgeable when the intensity of mom’s care expanded to include in-home care, increased medical needs, navigating insurance, specialty hospital visits, my mother’s physiological decline, and more.
In the final five years of her life, I felt like I was being swallowed-up by the sheer enormity of the necessary daily tasks. I quickly realized, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”
Preach Beyond the Choir
We wrapped up our session by providing this room full of journalists with a list of possible story ideas—many of which the group indicated they had never thought to cover.
Many thanked us afterwards for the information and for putting a human face to the realities of aging and caregiving.
Was this session a success? I believe the answer is yes. The proof will be when we see more stories produced and shared by more journalists across newspaper, television, radio, blogs and magazines. I am hopeful. Which is why I will continue preaching beyond the choir.
Julia Yarborough is a 2022 ASA Rise Fellow, a family caregiver, the 2020 GSA Journalists in Aging Fellow, and a communications consultant at Magid.
Photo caption: Left to right, Jennifer Horn, Norman Jackson, and author Julia Yarbough.
Photo credit: Courtesy Julia Yarbough