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Caring for Caregivers

Next month four former U.S. Surgeon Generals will appear at the International Council on Active Aging in Orlando, Florida, to demand a national infrastructure to help family caregivers. Paula Spencer Scott reports in a recent Parade magazine article that they hope to draw attention to the burden of responsibility that family members now face–often without help–in taking care of their loved ones with memory loss.

Taking care of a spouse, parent, or sibling with dementia can be overwhelming, exhausting, and isolating. But there is help.

Technology

  • Clocks that are easy to read and provide year, month, date, and time are one helpful device. These clocks may help to alleviate some people’s anxiety since those in early stages of dementia often lose their sense of time. (See this article for a more details: https://www.alzheimers.net/9-10-14-clocks-for-dementia/).
  • Appliance use monitors can really provide caregivers with peace of mind. If your loved one is still able to home alone for periods of time, you can still be assured that he or she is safe by using devices such as Evermind monitors that track your loved one’s use of their electrical appliances. “A small, white Evermind box plugs into a wall outlet or power strip, with the appliance plugged into the box. Using built-in wireless Internet, Evermind alerts you if the appliances your loved one normally uses each day have not been turned on or off. Compatible appliances include microwave ovens, coffee makers, TVs, lamps, curling irons, CPAP machines, garage door openers and more. No home Internet connection is required” (Caregivers.com).
  • Tracking devices can be used to make sure your loved one is not wandering or leaving the house or yard. Alzheimers.net has a list of some of the most popular and useful of these GPS tracking devices.
  • Motion sensors can also be helpful. Pads for beds and monitors can alert caregivers if their loved one gets out of bed in the night.

Community

Caregivers are not alone on their caregiving journey. Others are available and willing to help.

  • If you are comfortable on Facebook, you can find at least 11 groups of caregivers who can provide you with a sense of community. You will find others who are going through what you are experiencing, or perhaps you can share your experiences with others who need your help.
  • Veterans and families of veterans have a couple of caregiver groups to help. The Elizabeth Dole Foundation has created a website and caregiver network (also on Facebook) for veterans who are caregivers or for caregivers of veterans. See the Hidden Heroes website for more information and to connect with others.
  • A local caregivers support group meets every Friday at 9:30 a.m. at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in River Falls.

Celebrate July 4th with us–on the 2nd!

We are ready to celebrate America’s birthday on Tuesday, July 2nd at 1:30 at the First Congregational Church in River Falls. How about joining us in singing good old patriotic songs, sharing ice cream, and having fun? Everyone of all ages is invited. Bring your friends, your grandchildren, your neighbors. It will be a great way to kick off the holidays.

See you on Tuesday at 1:30!

Spring and Summer

It has been a busy time for us at Among Friends. But it is the good kind of busy–busy with activities, with social interactions, with music and art, with children, and with enjoying every moment.

At Easter, the children of a local family who regularly visits Among Friends and our participants colored Easter eggs. It was fun for everybody.

In May, we celebrated the Kentucky Derby with our own River Falls version of Derby Day. In anticipation, we decorated hats. What would the Derby be without extravagant hats? But in our race, everyone was a winner.

Summer means that it is time for growing things. So, with the help of a grant from Allina, we are growing an herb garden. We have planted the seeds, are watching them grow, and are beginning to harvest some of them to create nutritional snacks and meals.

Our caterer, Kathy Kapaun, demonstrated using fresh herbs in four different recipes for our lunch last week. She did a great job in making it a visual, oral and olfactory experience!

We are finding time also to take some walks around the neighborhood and to enjoy the summer sunshine. All in all, it has been a great spring and summer–and we have lots of good activities yet to come in the weeks to follow.

The Big Day Is Coming for SCV Give Big

April 30th is Big Give for St. Croix Valley, an community initiative spotlighting nonprofits in our area to which you can give.  We are hoping that Among Friends will be one of them to which you can give.

We have added a new button to our menu that allows you to donate directly to Among Friends.  We have joined St. Croix Valley’s fundraising initiative, “Big Give.” By using the link attached to the “Donate” button above, you can donate to our program.  If you would rather simply mail us a donation, you can easily do so to the address below.  Either way, Among Friends is very appreciative of your support.

Among Friends, 110 North Third St., River Falls, WI 54022

Up and At ‘Em

We all know that the more we move, the better we feel. But it’s the first step that’s always the hardest. Once we are walking or stretching or playing a game, it is fun. The best part, however, is that it is good for us.

For people with dementia, physical activity improves health and wellbeing in several ways:

  • Improving mood, reducing stress, and increasing calm, which helps to reduce aggression, wandering, or agitation
  • Improving physical abilities for everyday tasks
  • Reducing fall risk because of improved strength and balance
  • Slowing mental decline
  • Reducing depression
  • Improving heart health
  • Getting a sense of purpose and accomplishment while staying engaged and occupied
  • Improving sleep and reducing sundowning symptoms (dailycaring.com)

Staff and volunteers at Among Friends involve our participants in a variety of activities from bowling to table-top pool to chair yoga.

Every day brings fun things to do–while slipping in some healthful side benefits as well.

What Does It Feel Like to Have Dementia?

Retired Australian surgeon and public speaker John Roth, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, wants others to know, “I am the same person with a thirst for knowledge, a strong social conscience, a love of debate and I just happen to have a condition called Alzheimer’s Disease.”

He maintains that “memory does not define a person.  It is imply one of the tools mankind has to survive.  But with the diagnosis of dementia, it is almost assumed that all other skill sets have disappeared.  They have not.”

For those trying to understand what dementia feels like, they must recognize that individuals with dementia are “not deaf or stupid.”  Rather, they have a hard time processing and retaining information: “the components of the message do not always line up sequentially, or, from malfunction within the brain, message components simply drop out of sequence.”

Many of us walk into a room and forget why we went there. We retrace our steps, remember what we were looking for, and laugh at our absentmindedness.  Dr. Roth says that when he does the same thing, he is frustrated “knowing what the end point of any activity should be, but the forgetting of a step, or a piece of information, makes arriving at the end point impossible.”

Dr. Roth realizes that he now doubts himself and that others will then doubt his abilities as well.  He observes: “That, for any thinking adult, is the greatest pain of dementia—the loss of dignity, the loss of self-respect, the loss of the community worth of the “WHO I AM.’”

Programs recognizing a person’s dignity, self-respect, community worth, and intellectual capability are invaluable to individuals with dementia.  

Amy Sarcevic, “What Does Dementia Feel Like?”  www.informa.com

Spring At Last

“Snow melts into the earth and a gentle breeze   
Loosens the damp gum wrappers, the stale leaves   
Left over from autumn, and the dead brown grass.   
The sky shakes itself out. And the invisible birds   
Winter put away somewhere return, the air relaxes,   
People start to circulate again in twos and threes.   
The dominant feelings are the blue sky, and the year.   
—Memories of other seasons and the billowing wind;   
The light gradually altering from difficult to clear
As a page melts and a photograph develops in the backyard.” 

So writes John Koethe in his poem “The Late Wisconsin Spring.”  We are all glad to see the snow melting, the grass reappearing, the birds returning to our backyard feeders, and the boots and heavy coats being stored away again until next year.

What better thing to do than plant some flowers? This week, we got our hands in the dirt and our minds focused on thoughts of spring.

While it may be too early for our crocuses to appear (this photo was taken in Idaho earlier this week), we just have to be patient.

Research shows that people with dementia who garden show less agitation, decreased feelings of isolation, improved social interactions, increased attention spans, and maintenance of cognitive skills and interests.

Watch this space for more gardening. Allina Health just awarded Among Friends a grant for an herb garden project that we will begin in April!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Bev, Bob, Volunteer Ron, and Jan all “wearing o’ the green”

Every day is a good day at Among Friends, but holidays call for special celebrations.

On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish! So, what better thing to do but make some shamrocks?

One of the reasons Among Friends creates these fun activities is simply to enjoy each other’s company. But we are also encouraging social interaction, which is so important for individuals with dementia.

Research shows that socialization for those with dementia is very important for several reasons:

  1. To gain a greater sense of inclusiveness and belonging. Interacting with others, even if in a passive way, can lead to a greater sense of personal worth and a sense of belonging.
  2. To improve brain health. Studies show that the more people and contexts individuals with dementia, especially in the early stages, the better. These experiences may even slow down the progression of memory loss.
  3. To strengthen the connection to time and place. Socialization can give those engaged in interactions with others a normal structure and order in their lives. It stimulates the part of the brain that connects to time and place.
  4. To enhance and maintain focus. Because older people sometimes have a hard time moving from daydreams to a focused state of mind, mental activity and social engagement make that transition easier which, in turn, helps in daily tasks crucial to a sense of independence (www.anthemmemorycare.com/blog/socialization-for-dementia-care).
St. Patrick’s Day wouldn’t be complete without shamrock shakes.

Mostly, we just had a lot of fun in celebration of one our favorite holidays. If you know someone who would like to join the fun, have their families give us a call.

Fat Tuesday

In New Orleans and other parts of the Southland, Mardi Gras is a major celebration of the waning days of winter. This year, Fat Tuesday also came to River Falls.

Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday,” the day before Lent, which 40 days of fasting before Easter. Fat Tuesday has become a day of celebration–the last day to indulge in all your favorite foods, drinks, friends, and a good time. As the Cajuns say, “Laissez the Bons Temps Rouler,” “Let the Good Times Roll.”

We began our celebration by donning traditional Mardi Gras beads and creating masks while sharing stories and enjoying each other’s company.


A snowy February day became much brighter as we ate King Cake, laughed, and brought a little bit of New Orleans to Among Friends.