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Experts aid caregivers, bust memory-loss myths

A person giving care to a loved one with dementia told River Falls resident Nancy Abrahamson that the experience was like "heading west in a covered wagon with no map."

Abrahamson, the caregiver support coordinator for the St. Croix County Aging and Disability Resource Center, said that situation is played out more and more often as the instances of dementia rise.

A demonstrated and vocalized need in the community prompted an upcoming pair of free, educational workshops.

Abrahamson said they target those caring for people with some kind of dementia and those who may have concern about recognizing it in themselves or others.

The River Falls Area Hospital, RF Medical Clinic and the St. Croix County Aging and Disability Resource Center present the Myth Busters and Memory sessions.

"Caring for those with memory loss," takes place 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, May 2, in the lower level of the public library and includes a light supper. It targets people giving care to someone with dementia or some kind of memory loss.

The first session, called "My brain and I -- how to prevent, delay or live with memory loss," quickly filled to its capacity of 100 registered guests. Another session will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, at RFAH.

Anyone interested can register before Friday, April 19, for one of the 40 remaining spots by calling 715-307-6060.

Abrahamson helps facilitate both sessions, lending expertise gained in 25 years of working in the health-care industry, including nursing homes, a hospital, an Alzheimer's unit, and St. Croix County, among other experience.

Dr. Jeffrey Larsen of the River Falls Medical Clinic speaks at the first session. Occupational therapist Lindsey Fewer helps at the caregivers' session.

Caregivers will learn more about how to relate to and care for those experiencing some kind of memory loss. They'll find out when and where to find help for themselves and their loved ones, as well as helpful hints about how to coordinate, organize and juggle tasks, doctors and records.

Abrahamson said both sessions are relevant to anyone, since many people are either already dealing with dementia or will be dealing with it. She says people are usually apprehensive about seeking help and answers, sometimes ashamed or embarrassed.

"If we don't acknowledge it, there's not much we can do about it," said Abrahamson. "I have seen public awareness change and I've seen public perception change -- for the better."

For example, early recognition and treatment of cancer helps people plan better and improve their journey. Someone in denial about their issue(s) will struggle longer.

She said today's assessment tools do "pretty well" in diagnosing problems and differentiating real issues from normal brain blips.

She clarifies that dementia is a broad-umbrella term for a myriad of conditions involving the mind, all of which have varying levels of severity.

Abrahamson and River Falls Area Hospital Foundation and Community Engagement Heather Logelin say the idea for the two-part series came from the ladies of the RFAH Auxiliary.

Caregivers cope, adapt

Abrahamson recognizes the many challenges to caring for those with dementia and is excited to provide information that may help them master their challenges. She said it is definitely a "think-outside-the-box" process, sometimes creative.

In the still-open session, she and co-presenter Fewer will talk about the importance of self-advocacy, self-care and exploration of resources. Attendees will also get some information from a caregiver perspective.

Abrahamson stressed the extremely important role caregivers play in society. They keep many people out of institutions and at home, and a recently released report assigns a $216 billion value to the job they do in the United States.

They also tend to know the most about the affected person and usually act as their mouthpiece and advocate.

Abrahamson says caregivers at all levels and stages also tend to help each other by exchanging information about different parts of the "journey."

The still-open caregiver session delivers tips on everything from basic care of the person and themselves to communicating across many and often complex medical lines. She says part of the mission is to simplify things for caregivers so that they can take "one step at a time."

Abrahamson says that it is generally much better to get information early and make decisions before a family is in crisis mode.

For example, when is it time to find a care facility and what kind does it need to be?

Abrahamson said the caregiving session will also address the importance of an advanced directive, of keeping a sense of humor and of learning to lean on others.

The experienced support coordinator characterizes dementia as "not a logical or rational disease," making all the more reason to learn about it.

"We can know all about it then we need to be flexible," said Abrahamson. "The key is to get into the reality of the people with the memory loss. They won't come to yours."

With a smile, she says accepting that fact can ease the caregiving load, and she emphasizes how many people with dementia still have a lot to offer.

Abrahamson mentions that anyone who misses the upcoming May 2 session can mark their calendar for the annual caregiver conference, scheduled for Sept. 20 in New Richmond.

Abrahamson said even if people can't come to the sessions, they can find help through their county's ADRC, the Alzheimer's Association 24-7 hotline at 1-800-272-3900, and online at the Alzheimer's Association: