Gary Barg still remembers his “aha!” moment, the one that set him on his current path nearly 20 years ago.
“I was living in Atlanta and spent a month in South Florida, visiting my mom. She had become what I now call a ‘serial caregiver’ — first for my father, who died from bone cancer; and, by the time I came down for that month, for my elderly grandparents,” he recalls. “My grandfather was in the early stages of dementia.”
Barg, 57, says the month was a dizzying blur of helping his mom with numerous doctors’ appointments, treatment sessions, midnight dashes to hospital emergency rooms, untold hours spent on the telephone with health-insurance companies, and a few heart-wrenching, life-and-death decisions.
“It was beyond hectic, stressful and exhausting,” says Barg of that period in the summer of 1994.
When it was finally time for Barg to head back to Atlanta and his career as a successful videographer, he recalls saying to his mom, “Thank goodness I was here when things got so crazy.”
His mom’s sincere yet involuntary response — a blank stare of total incomprehension as to what “craziness” her well-intentioned son was referring to — said it all to Barg: “The chaos of caregiving made it like that all the time.”
And that’s when he knew “My life was about to change forever.”
Becoming an expert — and advocate
A North Miami Beach native, the unmarried Barg wasted no time: “I completed all pending projects, then moved back to Miami to help with my ailing grandparents’ care,” he says.
In addition to being there for his mother and grandparents, Barg also found himself periodically being sought out by some of his grandparents’ neighbors who were in similar situations.
“They began asking me their own caregiver-type questions,” Barg says. “Things like, who to call for this or where to go for that.”
Figuring that there had to be publications dedicated to just this kind of resource material, Barg searched far and wide to find them — only to discover that there were none.
“So, with all of the knowledge that Mom and I had accumulated, I decided to start a magazine — Today’s Caregiver — to fulfill a need that wasn’t being met,” Barg says.
Launched in 1995 — “About 10 minutes before the Internet came into existence,” Barg jokes — the mission of the magazine is, he says, “To let the country’s 66.7 million family caregivers know that they’re not alone. We focus on helping the person who is pushing the wheelchair.”
In fact, says Barg, according to the National Family Caregiver Association, the biggest challenge that all family caregivers usually have is in “self-identifying.”
“When you’re helping care for, say, your mother or father, you probably won’t think of it as ‘caregiving.’ You’ll just think, ‘I’m doing what any good son or daughter would do,’” explains Barg.
But by failing to recognize the mental, emotional and physical toll that family caregiving can have on the caregiver, “That person is putting his or her own well-being at risk,” Barg warns.
Spreading the word
As Barg’s bi-monthly magazine (which is now headquartered in Fort Lauderdale and available at caregiver.com) grew in popularity — “We give it away free to doctors’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes, rehab facilities,” he notes — Barg also began traveling the country, hosting day-long symposiums that he called “Fearless Caregiver Conferences.”
To date, he’s conducted more than 100 of them — and “Every time,” he says, “I learn something new.”
During the entertaining and informative sessions, which feature numerous local experts (doctors, mental-health professionals, elder-care specialists, public-sector officials, etc.), attendees are also encouraged to interact with one another.
“One of the things we’ve found is that much of what caregivers face is universal. The tips and information they pass along to one another prove useful regardless of what disease, illness or condition they’re caregiving for,” Barg explains.
And once conference attendees start chit-chatting, they usually wind up sharing what Barg describes as a “a tsunami of important information.”
Wednesday’s conference in Stuart (the first ever held in Martin County; Palm Beach County’s initial one is scheduled for Boca Raton in July) will feature a variety of speakers. They will include a neurologist discussing issues related to Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as a representative from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, one from a hospice-care organization, and experts in elder law and Medicare benefits.
Above all else, Barg stresses that when it comes to caregiving, we’re all in it together — whether we realize it or not. As he sees it, “Every person either 1) is a caregiver; 2) has been a caregiver; 3) will be a caregiver; or 4) has received/is receiving/will receive caregiving. This is something that affects everyone.”
And that’s the most compelling reason of all to care about this important issue.
‘FEARLESS CAREGIVER CONFERENCE’
When: Today, 8:30 a.m to 2:30 p.m.
Where: Charles and Rae Kane Center, 900 S.E. Salerno Road, Stuart
Description: Hosted by ‘Today’s Caregiver’ magazine CEO/Editor in Chief Gary Barg, the event is a day of support, information and personal interaction for family and professional caregivers — from local physicians and experts in aging, disability, medical benefits, disease treatment, elder law, home care and more.
Cost: Tickets are complimentary for family caregivers and $45 for professional ones.
Contact: Call 877-829-2734 or visit caregiver.com for more information.