16 Aug 2017 Reaching the Alzheimer’s Caregiver
by Emily Reese, REACH Program Specialist, Alzheimer’s Association – Florida Gulf Coast Chapter
There are few life experiences that prepare a person for the challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. I recall being fairly fresh from graduate school with a Master’s in Gerontology and a mother-in-law that seemed increasingly discombobulated when I would see her. I mentioned my concerns to family but the concern evaporated on the air carrying the words, after all, she was just 48 years old. A year later and a diagnosis; early onset Alzheimer’s.
The disease brought so many changes and challenges such as forgetfulness, confusion, restlessness and pacing. I recall being as perplexed as her family by how to respond to these changes.
Research into the Alzheimer’s experience reveals that caregivers may experience social isolation, anxiety, depression, frustration, uncertainty about the future, self –doubt and even despair. For good reason, health care professionals are as concerned about the caregiver as the person with Alzheimer’s.
Since my mother in law’s diagnosis 34 years ago knowledge has been gained exponentially. There is plenty of information available on caring for a person with Alzheimer’s but as one caregiver stated – “I have read books, blogs and attended education programs but I just needed to talk to someone!”
What if a caregiver could have a Dementia Care Coach for six months to teach them about the disease, to guide them, to equip them with stress busting tools?
This became a reality when two years ago the Alzheimer’s Association Florida Gulf Coast Chapter was one of 20 providers selected out of 240 applicants nationwide by the Rosalyn Carter Institute, Georgia Southwestern State University, to provide the Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver Health program (REACH).
There is no typical caregiver but there has been a typical impact of the REACH program. As caregivers learn new skills that produce different results, life with Alzheimer’s starts becoming more manageable and less stressful.
A REACH client “Charlie” was caring for his wife. He often felt very stressed by her changed behavior. During the course of 12 meetings over 6 months, Charlie learned specific tools to manage stress and strategies for problem solving challenging behaviors that he could apply now and to future issues.
A turning point for Charlie was recognizing his frustration was with the disease not his wife. Through this new perspective he says he is able to laugh at situations that would have previously made him angry or frustrated. He simply states “You saved my life”.
The REACH program was developed with input from the experts – caregivers. Combined with sound information in managing well-being, caregivers take back a sense of self control that was lost when Alzheimer’s crystalized as the reality.
A generous Southwest Florida Community Impact Grant awarded in January of this year has allowed us to expand our reach to caregivers in Lee, Collier and Charlotte Counties so others like Charlie can be reached and equipped for their caregiving journey.
This summer, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is spotlighting the nonprofit organizations funded through the 2017 competitive grant cycle. We have asked our 2017 grantees to send us their stories. The Foundation is pleased to partner with these change-makers.
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, last year the Foundation invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $111 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.