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Column: Dementia: Finding the diamond in the rough

Photo illustration / Metro Newspaper Service

Each year the Alzheimer's Association releases its Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures.

In 2019, they released statistics stating Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It is estimated that more than 16 million Americans provided unpaid care to a person living with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia process. That equals roughly 18.5

billion hours a year of unpaid care giving.

That is why offering support for caregivers of dementia/Alzheimer's disease is so important. I have had the privilege of facilitating a support group for these caregivers for the past five years. When I call this a privilege, I truly mean a privilege. These caregivers have allowed me to be a part of this truly difficult journey. They have modeled to me what unconditional love and support looks like. I have sat with spouses and adult children as they have prepared to lose a loved one to this illness and I have mourned alongside them when that day came.

I have watched them rally around their loved one and offer them support and kindness throughout this disease. I have listened as loved ones share a wide range of emotions: anger, grief, sadness, and frustration (to name a few) as they deal with the ever changing symptoms of dementia. I have heard stories of the struggle of changing relationships as a spouse moves from role of lover to caregiver to nurse.

But overall ... I have seen loved ones persevere.

Care giving to someone with a dementia process is not easy, and the requirements of this role

changes on a minute-to-minute basis. But the commitment and love that I see in them is awe

inspiring as they demonstrate resilience in the face of a devastating illness. That is why it is

essential that caregivers (both professional and non-professional) receive support and

education throughout this process.

Many of the caregivers I have come in contact with enter support groups saying "I can do this on my own." As they build connections and support through this process, they acknowledge that asking for help and letting others in is an essential step of this journey for them.

That is what I proudly chair the Lakes Area Memory Awareness Advocates and facilitate a bi-monthly support group. I recognize the importance of receiving support from others and becoming educated about this disease. I continue to advocate that it is OK to ask for help and receive support from others. You are not alone in this journey.

A few important tips for communicating with someone with dementia:

Approach them from the front and make eye contact. Often peripheral vision is affected, so by coming from the front and connecting with them from this position helps

line of combination.

Meet them where they are ... don't correct them or re-orient them. Listen to them and

be present in their moment.

Patience is key ... and a challenge. Offer yourself grace if you feel impatient or frustrated,

but work to communicate that you are supportive and be patient with them.

Attending a support group is a great way to connect with others going through the same thing.

The Brainerd lakes area offers several dementia caregiver support groups as well as Memory Cafes. For an updated list, visit our website at www.memoryadvocates.org. I facilitate the Staples area group, which meets from 3-4:30 p.m. the first and third Thursday of the month.

Support Groups

Support groups in the Brainerd lakes area for Caregivers of Those Living with a Dementia Process are:

First Tuesday of the Month:

• 10:30 a.m. at the Lutheran Church in Crosslake.

• 3-4 p.m. at Good Samaritan Society, Bethany Campus, Brainerd.

Fourth Wednesday of the Month

• 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. at Heartwood Senior Living Community, 500 Heartwood Drive Crosby.

• 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at Home Instead, 108 S. Sixth St., Brainerd.

First and Third Thursday of the Month

• 3-4:30 p.m. at Lakewood Health System Senior Campus, 401 Prairie Ave NE, Staples, MN

• Third Wednesday of the month

• 2:00p.m. at First United Church in the Fireside Room, 1001st St. SE, Little Falls.

Memory Cafes

Memory Cafes offer an opportunity for both the caregiver and the person living with dementia to

socialize together with others in similar situations.

Second Tuesday of the Month:

• Baxter Memory Café, 10:30-11:45 a.m., at Northern Lakes Senior Living in Baxter.

Last Tuesday of the Month:

• Pine River Memory Café, 10:30-11:45 a.m., at Lifehouse Coffee, 306 Barclay Ave., Pine River.

In addition to offering support groups, the Brainerd lakes area is home to the Lakes Area Memory Awareness Advocates. The Lakes Area Memory Awareness Advocates is a nonprofit

organization committed to creating a dementia friendly Brainerd lakes area. They offer numerous trainings for both professional and community organizations and host an annual educational forum on dementia. Monthly meetings are on the first Wednesday of the month at 8:15 a.m. at Home Instead Senior Living, 108 S. Sixth St in Brainerd. All are welcome.

SIDEBAR:

Annual forum: Dementia—finding the diamond in the rough.

What: Lakes Area Memory Awareness Advocates Forum.

When: Tuesday, May 14.

Doors open at 9:30 a.m. Program 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free lunch.

Where: Lutheran Church of the Cross, Nisswa.

Register: memoryadvocates.org or call Madison Berg at 218-824-1218.