Reaching families impacted by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia is the ongoing mission of the Alzheimer’s Association. “We hate to hear someone say, ‘I wish I had known about you when I needed help,’ ” says Cynthia Prud’homme, MSW, lower shore education coordinator. Completing the Greater Maryland Chapter tag team for the Eastern Shore is Leslie Zimmerman, constituent events manager.
Alzheimer’s disease is the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death, killing more people each year than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. In Maryland, 110,000 people are living with a diagnosis and 8,463 reside on the Eastern Shore.
Care and support services
Since March, due to the pandemic, all support services are presented as webinars. These include education programs, conferences, support groups, family care consultations and early-stage social engagement programs that provide people living with the disease and their caregivers with information and support throughout every stage of the disease. The virtual format allows the Chapter to reach a wider audience.
“Now out-of-state family members can learn at the same time, and caregivers who are unable to find substitute care can conveniently attend from home,” says Cynthia. Many families that receive support become volunteers. “Participants in our fundraising efforts, such as the Walk to End Alzheimer’s®, become committed advocates because they have personally experienced the emotional and financial toll of this disease,” says Leslie.
Online support services
ALZConnected® (alzconnected.org) is a free online community for anyone affected by Alzheimer’s or other dementia, providing support for people with the disease, their caregivers, family members, friends and individuals who have lost someone to the disease. The 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900) is a free resource and support service that connects callers to education classes and services in their community and answers crisis calls in more than 200 languages.
There are 16 million Americans who are caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, providing an estimated 18.6 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $244 billion. In Maryland, 294,000 caregivers provide 335 million hours of unpaid care valued at $4,389,000,000.
St. Michaels resident Lee Thomas attests to the help she’s received from support groups and the Helpline. As the caregiver for her 87-year-old mother Patricia “Patou,” Lee sometimes needs advice and a listening ear.
“We knew something was happening to mom in her 60s when she started misplacing things and getting confused, but there were no dramatic changes until she reached her mid-70s and started having issues with words. She had difficulty spelling and would sometimes resort to drawing pictures of things, like grocery items, when she forgot how to write the word,” says Lee.
Her mother and dad moved from South Carolina to a nearby independent care facility. Lee then discovered that her dad, who had always meticulously managed the couple’s finances, was now making substantial errors in their checkbook. Both parents were soon diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and her father later died from complications of the disease.
A doctor’s office brochure led Lee to contact the Alzheimer’s Association that connected her to support groups and caregiver conferences. The empathy she receives by attending is invaluable.
“People we encounter when walking down the street will say ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ but they really don’t want to know your challenges; but at a support group, they really feel your hurt.”
Lee has also made use of the 24/7 Helpline. “I tell people who are hesitant to share in a group setting that making a call to Helpline is a confidential call that can help relieve their stress.”
As the holidays approach, this year’s new way of celebrating can bring added stress. For advice and support services throughout the year, the Alzheimer’s Association urges those needing assistance to call the 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900) and/or visit alz.org/maryland.