Two local agencies are bringing much-needed support to Alzheimer’s patients and their families. In light of November being Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, there have been events, benefits and walks across the nation, but these two organizations make fighting this terrible disease their mission all year long. One is the Arkansas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association; the other is Alzheimer’s Arkansas. Though their names are quite similar, the two are completely separate and play different roles. The Arkansas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association helps a broad spectrum of patients and their families, while the Alzheimer’s Association focuses on unpaid caregivers.
Sadly, the work done by these two organizations is greatly needed. According to Kirsten Dickins, the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Arkansas Chapter, more than 5.8 million Americans are living with dementia and Alzheimer’s is its most common form. In Arkansas, there are 60,000 cases and approximately 180,000 unpaid caregivers. “It’s so devastating,” Dickins says. “It comes at such a cost to their family members who are often the unpaid caregivers.”
November is also National Family Caregivers Month. Matt Elmore, the executive director of Alzheimer’s Arkansas, refers to unpaid caregivers as the “forgotten patient.” He explains that “the patient is blissfully unaware while the caregiver is in charge of all the appointments, medicines, bills, laundry and housekeeping.” Many caregivers are so overwhelmed with the added responsibilities that they neglect their own needs. According to Elmore, 40 percent of caregivers over the age of 65 die before the Alzheimer’s patient.
Leading up to National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, Alzheimer’s Arkansas hosted five Walks of Love events in different cities to raise awareness and funding for the organization. All proceeds from the walks go to assisting Arkansas caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. This year’s walks took place in Russellville, Helena, Little Rock, Hot Springs and Conway. Walks for 2020 will be posted on the alzark.org website in December. Additionally, Alzheimer’s Arkansas hosts annual Caregiver Night Out events in the fall. Caregivers are given mini-grants to hire care for patients and are invited to attend fun nights planned by the organization.
Throughout the year, Alzheimer’s Arkansas hosts educational presentations, talks and lunches to share practical information. “The biggest stressors for caregivers are the small things,” Elmore notes. “When they can’t get mom to take a bath or take her medicine…it all adds up to 100 small things.” The organization teaches various tips and tricks for dealing with day-to-day struggles. These tips are also available to the public in the form of Care Cards on the alzark.org website.
The Arkansas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is part of the largest national association for this disease. It provides care and support to caregivers and their patients at a local level with educational programs for caregivers from the point of learning the warning signs to end-of-life planning. The organization offers support groups, and from September through November, the Alzheimer’s Association hosted Walk to End Alzheimer’s events in Bentonville, El Dorado, Ft. Smith, Jonesboro and Little Rock. The Bentonville walk alone included 749 participants, 105 teams and raised $136,391. Held annually in more than 600 communities nationwide, the Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.
Dickins explains that the Alzheimer’s Association aims to provide, first and foremost, care and support to caregivers and their patients through support groups, online tools, workshops and a 24/7 hotline. “One of our most underused resources is the healthline,” she says. “We know we’re not reaching the masses with it, and it is such a valuable resource.” The number, which is (800) 272-3900, is not just for states of crisis. It can be called any time for advice, local program information and decision-making support. The alz.org website has a wealth of information on local support as well as information on key research and ways to prevent dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s website, there are 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Currently, there is not a single diagnostic test that can provide a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, so it is of vital importance to know the signs:
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
4. Confusion with time or place.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.
7. Misplacing things and the ability to retrace steps.
8. Decreased or poor judgment.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.
10. Changes in mood and personality.
Visit alz.org/arkansas for more information.
Caring for Caregivers
Alzheimer’s Arkansas provides a number of assistance methods for caregivers in the state, including:
– Education: Workshop programs like Hope for the Future where the organization provides free educational training for prospective and current caregivers, to ensure they become the best caregivers possible.
– Support Groups: To help caregivers connect with others in their cities or towns.
– Financial Assistance: The Carelink Caregiver Support Grant and the Family Assistance Program Grant are both great ways for caregivers to attain at least some financial help.
Visit alzark.org for more information.