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Seniors Series: 'Hope' offers classes for dementia caregivers

Four-part series dedicated to sharing helpful information

By the time we are 85 years old, one-third of us will have dementia.

Hope Hospice states this on its "Dementia Fact Sheet," also noting that dementia is not a normal part of aging, and that there are more than 100 underlying conditions that cause it.

Hope, which runs a 14-part family care giver education series the second Saturday of each month, also has a specialized four-part course that focuses on dementia.

"A few years ago, we realized that our largest class was for dementia, and there was a huge need," dementia care specialist Jill Smith said.

Smith, a registered nurse, and Debbie Emerson, a retired health educator, who teach the Saturday classes, developed the curriculum for the dementia course, which is offered from 1-2:30 p.m. the fourth Monday of the month.

The four-part series is mostly attended by family members -- spouses and adult children -- whose loved ones are living with dementia, Smith said. People can start any time and can repeat classes.

"The information is valuable and big -- it can be overwhelming to learn all at once," Smith said. "Also the disease is always progressing, a person's situation is always changing."

Even when someone lives in a facility, she noted, family members remain caregivers.

"Even if a loved one is across the country, they are still participating in their levels of care," she said. "If they are in a facility, the family is the one who buys fresh clothes and talks to other family members, giving updates on mom, advocating with physicians -- the list goes on and on."

"A smaller number are caring for their family member 24/7, and we have individuals whose loved one is still independent but they want to become prepared," she added.

"Family members may be at varying stages of the progression of this disease or maybe they are at the beginning, trying to understand the diagnosis," she said. "Or some are in the thick of it. It is very hard to provide care for people in the middle stage."

The classes include understanding how patients with dementia communicate.

"Their world is quite different from ours but the world is still alive and, for them, real," Smith explained.

"Dementias are progressive," she continued. "Oftentimes a person is not diagnosed in early stages. We might struggle with some words or to remember things, but it is not apparent if it is related to a disease of the brain or is just normal aging of the brain."

If the person does not continue to decline, it is a mild cognitive impairment.

Dementia is a syndrome, meaning a group of symptoms that occur and characterize a condition. The fact sheet also states that "dementia" is an umbrella term for diseases that affect cognitive abilities and behavioral functioning.

Another fact listed is that 60% of dementia patients will wander from their homes and get lost. Smith emphasized that although these patients get lost, they are found.

"It is at the middle stage of the dementia, at a time when their families are watching out for them," she said.

"Another thing about wandering is it always has a purpose," she noted.

She gave an example: Perhaps a daughter may inform an elderly father that she is going to take a shower. If he doesn't remember that, he may look all over the house for her, then outside in the yard, and finally go searching down the street.

The classes are held at Hope Hospice and Home Health headquarters in Dublin. Sessions are free, but donations to Hope Hospice are always appreciated. Classes are limited to 30 participants so registration is required.

Volunteer to visit

Hope Hospice and Home Health is always looking for volunteers to visit people living with dementia. They are trained to find ways to connect with them for enjoyable visits. For more information, visit hopehospice.com or call 829-8770.

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