by Kelly Sublett

Often times, retirement can mean more than gardening, traveling and redecorating an empty nest. Retirees can find themselves as caregivers, too, tending to aging parents and loved ones. 

According to Pew Research Center, in 2018 “older adults, including those ages 75 and older, are about as likely as those in younger groups to provide unpaid care to another adult, and they spend at least as much time as younger caregivers doing so.”

That’s why organizations like CareLink and Arkansas’ Area Agencies on Aging, play an important role for an aging population and their caregivers.

Since 1979, the nonprofit, headquartered in North Little Rock, has provided services like Meals on Wheels, in-home care and telephone reassurance, among other things, so older Arkansans can age in the comfort of their homes and those caretakers who are also aging can get much-needed help to enjoy a new chapter of life. 

“Growing older doesn’t mean you have to grow out of style or out of fun,” says Meredith Hale, manager of marketing and outreach at CareLink. “Let your retirement years be your golden years. You still have your whole life ahead of you, and we want to make sure you are able to make the most of it, whether you’re receiving our care, caring for a loved one or staying active.”

One of the organization’s most utilized services is Meals on Wheels. 

Arkansas ranks in the top five states in the nation for food insecurity among seniors. Last year alone, 522,479 meals were delivered to seniors in need, according to CareLink. 

The CareLink Meals on Wheels program prepares 900 meals per day in its 13,000-square-foot CareLink Community Kitchen, its website reads. Meals are delivered by a team of more than 250 volunteers, along with staff drivers, to homes in Little Rock, Maumelle and North Little Rock. CareLink partners with senior centers within a six-county region to provide meals.

“We know there are challenges with aging, and we do our best to make this very natural process easier for everyone involved,” says Randi Metcalf, senior vice president for development at CareLink. “At CareLink, we have a special place in our hearts for family caregivers. Many times, men and women find themselves faced with the difficult decision of having to care for a loved one and feel overwhelmed. That’s where we come into play. We try to relieve some of the stress and worry that comes with caring for an aging family member by providing services that help lift that burden. For qualifying adults, we offer the opportunity to join CareLink as a caregiver to get the training needed to provide quality care for their loved one.” 

Whether retirement means finding resources for yourself or others, CareLink is one place to begin.

“With one call to our Information and Assistance (I&A) department, you are provided more information than you thought you needed,” Metcalf says. “We have a team of social workers with hearts bigger than the giant sequoias in the Redwood Forest who are committed to making sure you and your family feel comfortable with the next steps. Everyone at CareLink wants to be your go-to for information about aging, and it all starts with our I&A department.

“As much as we want to be your one-stop-shop, we understand life is not a one- size-fits-all situation. So if we aren’t the organization for your needs, I&A will do their best to get you the information you need to move forward.”

For those over 65, CareLink also offers activity resources, such as fitness classes, legal aid, wellness and even ways to get involved and volunteer.

For more information, log onto carelink.org or call 1-800-482-6359.