AUSTIN, Texas – Mark K. Shriver, senior vice president of Save the Children’s U.S. Programs, visited the School of Social Work to discuss his New York Times and Washington Post best-selling memoir, “A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver.” The book chronicles the true successes of Sargent Shriver’s life, as well as his struggles with Alzheimer’s disease towards the end of his life.
Shriver, as a former caregiver, acknowledged that many in the audience have had or will have responsibilities caring for elderly parents who suffer from Alzheimer’s. He said the term “caregiver” did not encompass, for him, what was really involved in his struggle to deal with the gradual disappearance of his father through the progressive stages of Alzheimer’s.
“When dealing with a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s, you have to adjust not just to become a caregiver but also a ‘love giver,’” Shriver said.
In addition to his work for Save the Children, Shriver has been a spirited advocate in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Through his role as a Champion for the Alzheimer’s Association, he works to raise awareness of the mysterious illness.
Shriver’s talk, co-sponsored by the Institute for Grief, Loss, and Family Survival (IGLFS), a unit of the school’s Center for Social Work Research, and the Alzheimer’s Association Capital of Texas Chapter, was held Nov. 28, during the observance of National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.
IGLFS is an academic-community partnership that brings together practice and research professionals to investigate and address the needs of children, adults and families who have experienced grief and loss.
“The Institute is designed to improve care for individuals facing illness, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and their caregivers. We work with the community to understand the unique needs of patients and caregivers in order to enhance the quality of life of the entire family. We are honored to host Mr. Shriver as he so eloquently represents the many caregivers in our society,” said Dr. Barbara Jones, associate professor and IGLFS co-director.
According to the National Center for Gerontological Social Work Education, the number of people in the United States over age 65 will double to more than 70 million by 2030. With an increasing elderly and nearly-elderly population comes a need for specialized services to meet their complex physical and mental health needs.
Among the many who attended Shriver’s talk was a cadre of School of Social Work graduate students who are participants in the GRACE (Gerontology Resources and the Aging Community in Education) Program. The program’s primary mission is to increase the number of professional social workers practicing with older adults and their families.
The GRACE Program provides field education and enrichment opportunities to students in the master’s degree program (MSSW) who are interested in learning more about social work practice with older adults. A $50,000 grant from St. David’s Foundation has funded fellowships for 12 MSSW students in the GRACE Program during the 2012-2013 academic year.
“We are so grateful to have had Mark Shriver share his family’s story with our social work students, field instructors and interested members of the community. His personal challenges in coping with his father’s Alzheimer’s disease validated what the students are learning in their field placements in gerontology about providing compassionate care and supportive resources to their clients and their ‘love givers,’” said Sarah Swords, clinical assistant professor and coordinator of the GRACE Program.
Also in attendance at Shriver’s talk were representatives from a number of the agencies that provide specialized field education to social work students interested in working with older adults in Central Texas. Some of these agencies include AGE of Central Texas, Family Eldercare, Westminster Manor, Hospice Austin, Proper Care Life Management for Older Adults, H.A.N.D., and Meals on Wheels.