Alzheimer’s disease seminar will provide resources for caregivers
Heather Bogdal’s mother, Janet Olsen, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, but she didn’t become the primary caregiver right away.
This happened in January 2020, after Bogdal’s parents came to Nashville from Michigan for a post-Christmas visit. Bogdal’s father, Olsen’s original caregiver, died suddenly during the trip. And Bogdal knew Olsen couldn’t live alone in Michigan, so she and her family decided that Olsen would stay in Nashville and live with them full-time.
Like the Bogdals, millions of people living in the United States are caring for a friend or family member with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia, according to Alzheimers.gov, a site operated by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Raising awareness, changing lives
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for loss of memory and other cognitive abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
There are seven stages of disease progression, with the final stage being fatal. Patients in advanced stages are often bedridden.
Staying healthy and active is important for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and can help delay disease progression, some doctors say.
Since moving to Nashville, Olsen has become active at Fifty Forward, a daycare where she can socialize and participate in activities. She usually spends three days a week at the facility and enjoys coloring.
“It’s like a meditation. She will get lost in it,” Bogdal said.
Olsen is still independent in many ways. She takes care of Bogdal’s dogs while she is at work, does her own laundry and even does the dishes after dinner.
“She’s the worst dishwasher ever, but she loves doing it,” Bogdal said with a laugh. “It makes him feel like he’s doing something important.”
Learning by doing
For Bogdal, there was no preparation when it came to becoming his mother’s caregiver. It was a process she had to learn along the way, she said.
David German accepted.
A New York resident, German’s wife of more than 30 years, Linda German, was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 62. He knew the disease was deadly and he knew he was going to need support, he said.
David German discovered it thanks to the Alzheimer Foundation of America (AFA).
“I really needed hope,” he said. “For all caregivers, I would say hope is the most important thing you have.”
It took Linda German about eight years to go through the seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She died in November 2021.
Her husband said she was unrecognizable at the end.
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He also said the COVID-19 pandemic was a kind of blessing in disguise. When everything stopped, David German was able to spend seven days a week with his wife. They kept busy, taking car rides, dancing together, listening to music and reliving old memories through the thousands of photos they had accumulated over their more than 30 years of marriage.
David German also fed Linda German ice cream, one of his favorite treats.
“I loved her. I loved her until the last day,” David German said. “She loved me. She forgot my name after a while, but she was always smiling.”
David German is still very involved with the AFA as a volunteer and sees a therapist through the foundation once a week to help him through his grief. Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, David German encourages patients to undergo clinical trials to try to slow the progression of the disease.
He hopes his story and his volunteer work will give hope to others caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
Resources for Caregivers
For German and Bogdal, there is nothing more important than having a support system when helping a patient with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
“No one can go through this alone and say, ‘Yeah, it’s a very tough road,'” David German said. “And the more help you get, whether it’s from family, friends, organizations or whatever…the better off you’re going to be.”
The AFA has several resources available for Alzheimer’s caregivers, including a 24/7 helpline staffed by licensed social workers trained in dementia care.
“It’s about connecting people with services and knowledge that can help them,” said Chris Schneider, director of communications at AFA.
On June 15, the AFA is hosting a webinar to educate Tennesseans about Alzheimer’s disease and the best way to care for a loved one who may be battling the disease. Lynn Wood, Certified Dementia Specialist and Caregiver Support Coordinator at Mental Health America of the Midsouth, will be one of the keynote speakers for the webinar. It will focus on managing common difficult behaviors.
Wood wants people to be proactive rather than reactive when approaching Alzheimer’s disease. She believes the best way for caregivers to do this is to educate themselves.
Wood also stresses the importance of being patient with patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
“No matter what, this person with Alzheimer’s disease is doing the best they can at this exact moment,” Wood said.
The AFA webinar will take place from 10 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. on June 15 and is free and open to the public. It is part of AFA’s 2022 Educating America National Tour.
“Knowledge is a useful and powerful tool that can help ease navigation in any situation, especially something as difficult as caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease,” said said Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., AFA President and CEO in prepared comments. “Connecting families with useful and practical information and support that can help them now and be better prepared for the future is what this conference is about.”
To register for the webinar, go to: www.alzfdn.org/tour.
Contact Kyle Watts at [email protected]