Network provides Alzheimer’s informationEvery 70 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease. The diagnosis leads patient and family to the brink of a slippery slope.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Every 70 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease. The diagnosis leads patient and family to the brink of a slippery slope.
“This is a horrible disease,” said Joan Litwitz, area coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association. “People know what’s ahead.”
The fatal disease robs memories, steals emotions and literally destroys the brain.
But not right away.
“There will be a point and time when they need a little more assistance,” Litwitz said. Until then, she said, it’s important to “keep them an active part of the community.”
That is the message Senior Connections plans to spread through the Memory Loss Education and Support Network.
“People with early stage Alzheimer’s are no different than we are,” said Kathleen Gates, program coordinator. “They look like us, act like us; they can go to church, go fishing …”
They just need someone to reach out and bring them.
Too often, Gates said, those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are embarrassed to go out in public. They might forget the name of a friend at church. They might get out on the water in a fishing boat and forget the way back.
Isolation is not the answer. In fact, it can actually aid progression of the disease.
“It’s vital to that person to retain as much of their personhood as possible,” said Chris Smith, Alzheimer’s care director at Golden Living in Superior.
Following the patterns of daily life – Rotary meetings, quilting groups, playing the piano, looking through family photos, folding clothes, sharing coffee with the guys or a simple trip to the barber – can keep the mind focused, active and engaged.
“Just because they lost some short-term memory doesn’t mean they lost those connections,” said Luann Teige, deputy director of Senior Connections.
Put a healthy person in a wheelchair for four weeks. That person could lose the independence of walking as muscles go lax.
“The same thing is true of the brain,” Smith said. “By exercising the brain specifically you can add four to six years of quality life to people with Alzheimer’s.”
Socialization is a form of mental exercise.
“It’s been shown the progression of the disease is slower if they can keep up the socialization,” Teige said.
You can help.
“What we’re trying to do is develop a system of volunteers who have specific gifts,” Gates said, from knitting and artwork to gardening and model trains. “We’re going to try to hook volunteers up with some of these early stage people so the early stage people can continue living.”
Even if it’s one contact a month doing something most people take for granted, it makes a difference.
“To a person with dementia it could be a lifeline,” Smith said.
An initial Alzheimer’s summit to train volunteers took place in April.
“We expected 10 people; 40 showed up,” Gates said. “They are so hungry for this information.”
A second summit runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Superior Public Library to provide information on all aspects of Alzheimer’s for those new to the program and those who attended in April.
Caring for caregivers is another focus of the program. Matching volunteers and people with early stage Alzheimer’s provides an hour or two to give caregivers down time. An Alzheimer’s Support Group for caregivers meets monthly at the Superior Public Library. This month, the meeting runs 1-2 p.m. Oct. 21.
“The bottom line with the group is we give people hope,” Smith said. “Along with hope is dignity.” The group shares laughs and tears as they chart their course through life with Alzheimer’s. There are no rules or patterns with the disease.
“It’s different for everyone,” Smith said. But caregivers will find validation, information and camaraderie at the meetings.
“People will walk away feeling better,” Smith said.
The number of people with Alzheimer’s is growing. By age 85, people have a one in five chance of developing the disease, according to the Alliance for Aging Research. And the baby boomer generation is creeping closer to that age.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize what an epidemic this is,” Smith said.
Through outreach efforts, Memory Loss and Education Support Network members hope to demystify Alzheimer’s.
“If we can just get people to talk about it,” Gates said, it could someday become a rallying point, as breast cancer did. “It takes people speaking up so it isn’t hidden.”
For more information about volunteering, connecting a loved one with Alzheimer’s to a volunteer, the summit or the support group, contact Senior Connections at (715) 394-3611 or Smith at (715) 392-5144. The Memory Loss and Education Support Network is funded by a three-year grant from the national Halen Badar Foundation in Milwaukee.