Terry Cummings, Kim Galloway and Sondra Wiedenfeld have experienced firsthand the effects of providing care to family members with dementia.
They all have channeled those experiences into the Richmond-Rosenberg Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group, which is dedicated to providing tools and advice for those taking care of a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
With the number of people suffering from the disease rising rapidly, Faith United Methodist Church and St. John’s United Methodist churches in Richmond had a joint vision spawned from a series of community meetings on senior issues in 2013. They wanted to offer support in conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Association to caregivers, family and friends in Richmond, Rosenberg and the surrounding areas.
The group’s meetings, held the first Thursday of every month at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Richmond, began in October 2014.
“We all have a heart and a passion for this, because we want people to know where to come to get help,” Galloway said. “You can tell when they walk in that some of them are physically and emotionally drained, and these meetings can give them that little spark they need.”
According to a report from the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, while at least 16 million caretakers provide unpaid care for their loved ones.
In Texas, more than 380,000 people live with Alzheimer’s disease, while nearly 1.4 million family and friends provide care.
In that vein, Cummings, Galloway, Wiedenfeld and another facilitator are partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association to offer a shoulder to lean on in their slice of Fort Bend County, especially considering many caretakers are spouses or loved ones who are in unfamiliar territory in knowing how to care for patients.
“We want (caretakers) to know they’re valued and they’re not alone,” Wiedenfeld said. “We hope we’re breaking that barrier down so they can ask for help. Some of them think they’re the only one.”
With personal perspectives from different points of the journey such as their own, Galloway said the group strives to provide an encouraging environment conducive to sharing experiences and learning about available resources, the disease and advancements in research and treatment.
“We’re trying to give them things to do with their loved ones, how to deal with difficult situations they may encounter,” she said. “So many times, the caregivers are the ones who end up so stressed that they become sick and can’t take care of their loved ones.”
Past meetings have included tips for caretakers on how to communicate or converse with their loved ones suffering from the disease.
At this week’s meeting on Aug. 1, Silverado Senior Living (Sugar Land) Director of Resident Engagement Dana Declouet will provide resources for activities that caregivers can implement for dementia patients living at home or within a care facility.
Among other tips offered at meetings is the advice that sometimes the caretaker themselves need a respite, which can benefit both caretaker and patient.
“They need to take time for themselves, they need to recharge. Their focus is on the loved one, and that’s important. But whatever type of dementia it is, it always reaches a point where it permeates many moments of the day and the night,” Wiedenfeld said. “One advantage to a respite is that a different environment or person interacting with the recipient can also provide outcomes the usual caregiver couldn’t get out to them. Sometimes just a different face can be a big bonus, because they may respond to different people for different reasons.”
Added Cummings: “If the caregiver can get respite from that kind of situation where they’re not thinking for two people and dealing with the minute-by-minute repetition, they can come back in refreshed and deal with it better and give that care out of love as opposed to out of responsibility.”
Whether it’s with the Richmond-Rosenberg caregivers group, which averages 15 attendees per meeting, or another one of the other similar groups around Fort Bend County, experts say getting involved in such an activity can pay dividends for an often-neglected group.
“Something special can happen when a caregiver connects with someone going through a similar experience. Those members offer one another something unique – emotional comfort and moral support,” said Kathy Spetter with the Alzheimer’s Association’s Houston and Southeast Texas branch, which has handled approximately 2,500 care consultations and referrals in the past year. “Some are a step ahead and can offer techniques and coping mechanisms. All of this helps to make the challenges and hurdles a little easier for them.”
For more information about the Richmond-Rosenberg support group, visit its Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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