Dementia workshop aims to educate and support caregivers
Daily Inter Lake | September 29, 2023 12:00 AM
Kalispell resident Daya Haag sits with her husband Pat in matching plaid shirts at a workshop at the Flathead County’s Agency on Aging.
Pat suffers from Alzheimer’s, and even though Haag has a couple of years under her belt as his caregiver, she seeks out educational opportunities to learn how to better navigate their situation. During a recent workshop provided by the county agency and the Alzheimer’s Association of Montana, the lesson was about respite retreats, where caregivers are encouraged to take time out of their day to focus on their own needs.
“As they get more involved with their disease process, it becomes more critical to find time,” Haag said. “Because you're doing everything all by yourself, but you're also having to undo the things that they did. You got through the day and didn't accomplish anything, but you kept them alive. So, hearing about the respite retreat is really something that would help me a lot.”
Alzheimer’s falls under the umbrella of dementia-related diseases, which are hallmarked by progressive mental decline that leads to loss of memory, issues with reasoning and changes in communication, among other symptoms.
Jennifer Crowley is the founder of Eagleview West, a life care planning service, and is also a volunteer educator with the Alzheimer’s Association of Montana. She spoke during the workshop about how to deal with the break in reality that comes with the disease.
“We're humans, we want to fix things, when we know that we can help somebody correct something we try to remind caregivers and community partners that this takes a learning curve that's pretty steep and long. But, we're in this together and we need to deal with it together,” Crowley said.
Crowley offered another set of verbs to use if a caregiver is dealing with a difficult behavior from a dementia patient. Instead of shaming, distract them; instead of lecture, reassure; and instead of demanding something of them, ask.
Though some situations might necessitate a correction, there are ways to approach it without further upsetting the person. Though Crowley admits it’s a lot easier said than done. If a person with dementia is made to feel let down or like they did something wrong, she adds, it can lead to anger and distrust, suspiciousness or confusion.
“What we want to do is to get into their reality where possible or cope with it through simple measures. We want to live their truth and create moments of voice so that we can elevate the innate feelings that we as humans do have but get lost in translation of dementia. We want to elevate any feelings of pleasure, love and happiness. Security and safety is also part of that, too,” Crowley said.
Another goal of the workshops is to connect caregivers with each other. Alzheimer’s Association Program Director Melanie Williams said taking care of someone with dementia can make the caregiver feel like they are on an island. From her experience of taking care of her mom, she said it’s easy to feel like nobody understands.
“So creating those connections can just help not only with the networking, but friendship and camaraderie — reaching out to somebody and just saying, ‘I'm exhausted.’ And they're there for you and understand what you're going through,” Williams said.
Alzheimer’s Association of Montana Executive Director Jami Funyak said the workshop is one of many held throughout the state over the past few months. She said there has been success in bringing caregivers, care providers and community members together to share information. It also serves as a way to let people know about free services, such as a 24/7 phone line that connects people with trained clinicians.
The association held a Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Kalispell on Sept. 23. With the help of sponsors, the Flathead Valley Walk raised $33,823, just under the goal of $34,000.
Flathead County Agency on Aging Director Carla Dyment said the agency looks to assist older adults and family caregivers.
“This was kind of a hybrid event of bringing people from the community together who face it on a day to day basis, but also service providers and anyone working in the field — basically for anybody — to give the most impact for networking with one another, knowing what resources are out there, learning some things and about the different tools and tips,” Dyment said.
Partnering with larger organizations can help them reach more people, Dyment said. Still, the agency is offering new tools to help caregivers and families figure out long-term care for their loved one.
"We're launching some programs for education and training and life care planning for caregivers. So, those are two new things we want to branch out and to be able to offer to the community," Dyment said.
She said the agency also received a grant to build a resource room, which has been crafted for families to come in and read materials, view online classes and webinars, meet with one another or with a life care planning professional and talk about long-term care.
The agency offers many other resources for aging adults and family caregivers. To learn more, visit the Agency on Aging’s website at flathead.mt.gov/department-directory/agency-aging. Check out “Caregiver Corner” and see a full list of services offered, which includes help with meals, legal assistance and Medicare counseling, among many others.
The Alzheimer Association of Montana also has resources to share. Visit www.alz.org/montana to learn more about the disease.
Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing email@example.com.