Forum gives advice to Alzheimer’s caregivers

Daily Sundial

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The Alzheimer’s Association held its fourth annual “Caregiver Wellness Day” Saturday to support, educate and offer resources to friends and family members caring for memory loss patients.

There are about 34,000 families in the San Fernando Valley who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

For every person with the disease, about three family members and caregivers are affected, said Rachelle Dardeau, regional director for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Speakers from assisted living, hospice care, social services and hospital organizations lectured to caregivers with the message that they should not only care for their loved ones, but for themselves as well.

“While (individuals) are caregiving, they typically get so invested in caring for their loved one that they neglect themselves,” Dardeau said. “(Caregivers) don’t have time to go to the doctor. They don’t have time to eat properly, and we want to emphasize how important it is that they don’t lose their quality of life while becoming a caregiver.”

The six-hour event, sponsored by CSUN’s Interdisciplinary Gerontology Program and the Alzheimer’s Association, consisted of lectures ranging from Alzheimer’s symptoms, research and treatment of the disease, the importance of geriatric planning, a question and answer session, and a relaxation and renewal drum session with CSUN World Music Professor Ric Alviso.

To aid individuals on becoming effective caregivers, over 40 vendors, including VITAS Innovative Hospice Care and GraceVille Assisted Living Community, offered information on home care, nursing services and provided contacts for an array of relief programs.

CSUN students had the opportunity to hear from different service organizations and see the possibilities of a career in the field, said Debra Sheets, coordinator of the gerontology program at CSUN

“What you find is that there’s not much of a resource out there for people to come together and at one time do two things,” said Jeffrey Friedman, director of community relations for Dynamic Nursing Services. “One, to share with others who are going through the same thing, and two, to obtain resources for their needs in their homes.”

Caregivers were recommended to join support groups if they felt angry, despondent or depressed while caregiving.

“The largest benefit is that you need people who are walking the same path with you,” said Anita Miller, director of geriatric planning at Elder Law Offices of Mitchell A. Karasov. “(Individuals in) support groups are the most courageous people, and it allows you to know you’re not alone.”

During the question-and-answer portion of the event, the crowd shared personal experiences with speaker and Alzheimer’s Association Board Member Helena Chui, who is also chair of USC’s Alzheimer Disease Research Center.

The goal was to try to help caregivers understand the kind of progress researchers have been making in understanding and treating Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, Chui said.

Chui advised caregivers to “get a good, accurate diagnosis, (and) find a physician to help manage (Alzheimer’s disease) because it’s a disease that goes on for an average of 10 years. “

Also, Chui advises people to find a social service worker to help patients function as best as possible.

“Dr. Chui made us more aware of the latest research and some of the medication, and I think the other (speakers) helped us define Alzheimer’s in different stages,” said Sandy Browne, administrative specialist analyst for the Music Department at CSUN.

Compared to other Alzheimer’s events, “Caregiver Wellness Day” had the most audience participation, Chui said.

“Dr. Chui has a private practice, but people usually don’t get access to that or it’s unavailable to them,” said Kathy Anderson, gerontology student and president of the gerontology honors society, Sigma Phi Omega.

Miller told audience members to get a complete diagnostic while a loved one with Alzheimer’s can still verbalize.

Caregivers were told to pay early attention to legal and financial resources of individuals with memory loss, their life goals, sleeping habits, food intake, physical pain, fear of loneliness, death and dying, Miller said.

Miller gave audience members a frightening look at the problem of Alzheimer’s patients who unexpectedly wander away in public places, such as airports, train stations, restaurants, and offered a “Safe Return Bracelet” alternative.

“There’s always a first time when your loved one with Alzheimer’s starts wandering and trying to find you at a restaurant when you get up,” Miller said. “With the bracelet, emergency personnel can help articulate where a patient lives and can get them back to their families.”

“Caregiver Wellness Day” not only informed family and friends of Alzheimer’s patients, but reassured them that help was available and that they were not alone.

“My mother has Alzheimer’s, she’s had it for four years,” Browne said. “I went to the same event two years ago. My father and I came and found it very helpful. It’s a relief.”