Through a grant from the ACT on Alzheimer’s Collaborative, the Northfield Senior Center and Three Links Care Center are coming together to present a series of discussions aimed at making Northfield a more “dementia friendly” community.
Chris Ellison of the Northfield Senior Center can tell you all kinds of sobering statistics about dementia and Alzheimer’s. But what she hopes to accomplish through these discussions is to instill a sense of understanding − both in the disease itself and where you can go to for help.
“There is a significant lack of understanding about what is normal forgetfulness of aging, and what is a sign that you are looking at a significant cognitive loss, “ Ellison said. “Part of this program is to be able to make that clearer. It’s not a user friendly disease.”
Ellison said that there isn’t much in the way of treatment and that when people are diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, they aren’t sure what to do next.
“One of the things that the grant Northfield received from ACT On Alzheimer’s is to create a coordinated system that will provide some guidelines,” Ellison said. “You’ve got this diagnosis. Now what do you do? What kind of help are you going to need? Where do you find that help?”
“The only thing you can do is deal with it,” said Northfield resident Arde Koeheler.
Koeheler’s husband Jim passed away from Alzheimer’s on Jan. 1. She said that he had been diagnosed nearly 15 years ago, but in retrospect she indicated that there were signs something was wrong even prior to that. The use of medication prolonged the inevitable, but did nothing in terms of improvement.
Koeheler said that her husband took the diagnosis as well as he could, but that neither of them were prepared for the road ahead.
She said the hardest thing was family members and friends that did not accept what was happening.
“That’s the kind of thing that is so hard for a caregiver — taking on the public,” Koeheler said. “These things are taking place. We have to get the word out.”
Koeheler said that she thinks the idea of making Northfield a “dementia friendly” community is an asset. Alzheimer’s isn’t always “worn on the sleeve,” she said.
“The caregivers, like the patients themselves, need caring for,” she said.
Koeheler hopes that from these programs at the Senior Center, people leave with more understanding, compassion and the realization that this is a disease.
“People die from it,” she said.
Giving the keynote discussion during the first event is speaker Lori La Bey.
La Bey founded the organization Alzheimer’s Speaks and also hosts a radio program designed to give “voice to those afflicted with memory loss and their care partners.”
Simply stating her hope for her portion of the series, La Bey wants people to leave knowing “that there is life with dementia.” She also wants to “help people engage and enrich their relationships knowing there is nothing to be ashamed of and point them in a direction to find support and hope to live life fully.”
Three Links CEO Pat Vincent said that after receiving the ACT on Alzheimer’s grant, a multidisciplinary group started to survey a cross section of the Northfield community to find out where the gaps are in memory care; and more importantly, what can be done about it.
Vincent, too, feels the goal of these talks is for people to have a greater understanding of dementia and Alzheimer’s. She indicated that they may look into doing additional discussions after a second round of funding is made available in 2015.