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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 16, 2008

Local help offered for those facing Alzheimer’s

By Jo E. Prout

In response to the growing number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, local organizations are offering new support groups and caregiving classes to families in this area.

Karla Flegel is a faith community nurse with the First United Methodist Church of Voorheesville. The church is hosting classes on three consecutive Sundays, beginning this weekend, for families and individuals who are, or who may be in the future, affected by Alzheimer’s.

The Community Caregivers, a regional not-for-profit organization, is starting a support group for those living with Alzheimer’s, and a respite volunteer training program.

“We’ve identified a need in the community. Several of our caregivers care for those with Alzheimer’s,” said Linda Laudato, Community Caregivers’ client intake coordinator. Community Caregivers found that volunteers need information on the illness, its effects on families, and ways to deal with problem behaviors.

The Enterprise has received a spate of letters recently from readers who have dealt with relatives suffering from Alzheimer’s; the letter-writers have discussed and debated the merits of home care and the care in a live-in facility.

Community Caregivers harnesses the time and talents of volunteers to help residents stay in their homes.

“This is the first time we’ve had a program like this,” Flegel said about the Alzheimer’s Association classes in Voorheesville. The classes will cover dementia basics, behaviors, and communication. Earlier this week, 16 people had signed up for the courses.

“I would like to see more,” Flegel said. “It’s open to all.” She said that she encourages all who live with a family member with the illness, or who have the illness, themselves, to attend.

“The more we understand, the better we can relate,” she said. “If you don’t know about the illness, you’re going to fantasize, and that’s where the fear comes in. Some people do not seek early intervention.” Flegel said that studies have shown that families dealing with Alzheimer’s respond to early intervention with medications and helpful communications methods.

All ages are welcome at the classes, including adolescents, Flegel said.

“It’s OK to register at the last moment. Or just come. That’s OK,” she said.

Faith nursing

“Our goal is early care,” Flegel said. “It’s maintaining health, optimizing health within that time.”

Faith community nurses used to be called parish nurses, Flegel said. Non-Christian countries are now using this ministry, she said, so that the word “parish” was dropped.

“In this country, it is Christian, but it is entering other denominations. It’s rapidly growing. It’s a specialization within the profession of nursing,” she said, “…the intentional care of the spirit. It’s combining professional nursing with spiritual care…to integrate faith and health.

“For me, I’m not paid. Most are not paid. It’s like a calling. For me, it’s part-time. It’s in collaboration with a minister,” she said. Flegel has been the faith community nurse in Voorheesville for a little more than a year, she said.

“We need to take a special course for this. There’s a special preparation course that prepares us,” Flegel said. Nurses can take a three-credit online course, or a course compacted into several weekends, she said. Programs are scattered across the country, she said.

“It’s really a very special, meaningful course,” Flegel said.

She said that she took an optional one-unit clinical pastoral education course to help with ministry.

“The work or focus for a faith community nurse in a Christian community resembles that of Christ’s healing ministry [and] his attending to the needs of the whole person, or the relationship of the body, mind, and spirit,” Flegel said. “Christ healed more than the physical needs. He healed the mental [needs].”

The church has an older adult ministry committee that works with Flegel.

“I focus on the spiritual needs of the…older person,” she said. “There’s no physical, hands-on care. It’s all faith-based, spiritual…a lot of preventative care, referrals, sometimes just explaining things. Physicians don’t have time to talk.”

Flegel concentrates her time on those in the First United Methodist Church.

“I also visit nursing homes where our people are,” she said “I’m…available to all, but mostly older adults. I do reach out into the community.”

With her spiritual care, she said, she uses prayer and focuses on scriptures.

Alzheimer’s care

The number of people living with Alzheimer’s is increasing, Flegel said.

“We’re becoming more aware of it. I think it is increasing as our lifespan is increasing. I believe that they are very special people,” Flegel said of those with Alzheimer’s. “I feel that each person is very individual and I feel that many people focus on the illness versus the person — the response of the person. The illness…weakens the mind or cognition, but it has no effect on the spirit. The mind might weaken, but the spirit is always there.

“I sometimes see people living with Alzheimer’s becoming their true selves…sometimes in their words or in their actions,” she said. For example, she said, many people are responsive to music.

Regional support

“We’re starting a monthly support group,” said Laudato. “It’s for caregivers, family members, for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. There are several different causes of dementia. Alzheimer’s is just one cause. But the behaviors and symptoms are similar.”

Community Caregivers is requesting that people call to sign up for the free support group, which begins today at 1 p.m.

“We’re not going to deny anyone if they show up,” Laudato said. The support group will meet the third Thursday of every month.

Community Caregivers is now working with the Alzheimer’s Association. “We’ll have access to speakers, educational resources, and ongoing support from that organization,” Laudato said. “It seems a natural progression of what we’ve been doing.”

Through the Alzheimer’s Association, Community Caregivers is beginning training for respite workers beginning Oct. 28 at 3 p.m. The program will be ongoing, depending on the demand.

“Our volunteers are responding,” Laudato said. Because many volunteers are not available for daytime training, Caregivers may be adding a weekend date in the future, Laudato said.

The topic on Oct. 28 is communicating with people with Alzheimer’s.

“It’s geared toward our volunteers, but anyone can attend. There is no charge,” Laudato said. For the respite training, she also asks people to call to sign up.

Laudato expects a lot of people to join the support group, “once the word gets out,” she said. “There hasn’t been a group in this area.”

Laudato said that the website for the Northeast Alzheimer’s Association lists all the support groups in Albany County. There are two in Delmar, she said, but none in the Guilderland or Altamont areas.

She also said that Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise.

“We see it more and more every month,” she said. “It’s difficult for people to leave their relatives with someone. We hope to help more people as they hear what Community Caregivers does through the support group.”

Laudato said that some people may be more comfortable having a volunteer come to their homes, if they are hesitant about daycare.

“They may be more willing to ask for help with that,” she said.

“Community Caregivers can offer transportation [for support group members], or volunteers to stay with a loved one while they attend the group. They need to let us know ahead of time,” Laudato said.

Community Caregivers has more than 500 volunteers, she said.

“We’ve recently sent e-mails and letters to people who might be interested [in respite training]. There’s always a need for volunteers,” she said.

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