The goal of the Alzheimer's Association and the efforts of Winnemucca's Age-Friendly, Dementia-Friendly committee compliment and support each other. Both organizations seek to raise understanding of dementia and to make life easier, both for those who suffer with some level of dementia and for those who care for and interact with them.
Northern California, Northern Nevada Alzheimer's Association representatives recently gave a training class at Humboldt General Hospital on understanding and responding effectively to dementia-related behavior. Winnemucca Age-Friendly, Dementia-Friendly members attended, along with hospital and long term care personnel, caregivers and other community members.
Northern California, Northern Nevada Alzheimer's Association Regional Director Niki Rubarth explained that it is her job to work with people in outlying rural communities, to build and facilitate community partnerships. “We want to help people with dementia and their caregivers to live well in their communities — not just to exist — but to be accepted,” Rubarth said.
Alzheimer's Association Family Care Associate Heidi Slater has been with the Northern California, Northern Nevada Alzheimer's Association just a short time. She has a background in gerontology at UNR and has worked with the legislature. Her job now, as Family Care Associate, is to head up Alzheimer's support groups.
“Our primary concern is to ensure caregivers have what they need,” she said. She noted that the needs of those who suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia change as their condition progresses. As their needs change, so do the needs of their caregivers. “We can help with many things, from legal and financial planning in the early stages to hospice and end-of-life needs in later stages.” Slater said. “As a non-profit, our services are available at no cost.”
The training presented by Rubarth and Slater focused on understanding and responding to dementia-related behaviors. They helped participants identify common triggers for behaviors associated with dementia and explained a process for assessing and addressing challenging behaviors.
One of the most interesting perspectives they presented dealt with the loss of communication skills that often comes with the progression of dementia. Because individuals suffering from dementia often cannot clearly understand or communicate what they are thinking and feeling, or even what they need, their frustration can lead to actions that are difficult to deal with.
The realization that personality changes and difficult behavior stem from fear, confusion, discomfort, or even physical illness can help caregivers and others to more clearly understand and respond positively.
Caregivers can assess the possible reasons behind difficult behavior, then try to connect and respond as well as possible. Caregivers can assess how well their response turned out and consider a plan to best help their patient, friend or loved one through the next instance of agitation or confusion.
America's population is aging. The probability is high that most people will, at some point, face dealing with symptoms of dementia — if not personally, or with a close family member — then with older members of the community.
Rubarth said each person with dementia is unique. “When you've met one person with Alzheimer's — you've met one person with Alzheimer's,” she said, emphasizing that those with dementia are still individuals.
Often one of the most pressing needs of caregivers is to know they are not alone in their challenges. Others who have experienced or are experiencing the same challenges can share ideas, strategies, and comfort. The Alzheimer's Association help-line 1-800-247-3900 is available 24 hours a day seven days a week, in multiple languages.
Rubarth and she and Slater are also available to connect people with Alzheimer's Association resources. They added they hope to organize additional education opportunities in northern Nevada.
Alzheimer's Association Family Care Associate Heidi Slater:
Alzheimer's Association Regional Director Niki Rubarth:
Gini Cunningham, who heads Winnemucca's Age-Friendly, Dementia-Friendly committee also has their contact information.