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Taking care of ourselves to better care for others: Alzheimer's Assoc. to host educational forum Nov. 29 in Lodi

Lodi News-Sentinel - 11/28/2023

Nov. 21—There are hundreds of families in the Sacramento and San Joaquin county regions caring for loved ones with dementia, and many can begin to feel overwhelmed from long days and hours of being a primary caregiver.

Next week, the Alzheimer's Association will host an event in which two mental health professionals will provide tips caregivers can use to ensure they are physically and emotionally well in order to care for their loved ones.

The "Take Care to Give Care" educational forum will be held at Hutchins Street Square, 125 S. Hutchins St., on Nov. 29 from 10 a.m. to noon.

Claire Day, the Alzheimer's Association's chief program director, will present the latest on the disease's science and research.

In addition, Stephani Gunther, caregiver education specialist and outreach coordinator with Del Oro Caregiver Resource Center, will present ways to cope with the stress of caring for for someone suffering from dementia.

It's the first time the organization has hosted an educational forum in Lodi.

"It's important to reach out to all of our communities (in San Joaquin County), where family caregivers are looking for support," said Deinse Davis, program coordinator for next week's event.

"It's never too early to reach out for care services," Davis added. "It's important for families to balance their priorities (of caring for loved ones) while maintaining their own well-being."

Davis said for many residents suffering from dementia, their caregivers are spouses, siblings or children.

And for caregivers, she said it can be easy to lose patience with those who are suffering. Many who live with dementia often forget what they've said or have been told, requiring caregivers to repeat themselves.

Sometimes, those with dementia can just walk away from home or a care center without telling anyone, causing stress and anxiety for caregivers.

In order to maintain their own physical and mental health, Davis suggested caregivers get plenty of rest and exercise, eat on a regular basis, and make an appointment to see their own doctors.

Additionally, they should consider building a support network either through friends or family members, or by reaching out to the Alzheimer's Association support groups and services.

"It sounds selfish, but it isn't hard to put yourself first when taking care of a family member," Davis said. "Sometimes dealing with enormous stress can lead to burn-out."

Lodi resident Jane Lopez is no stranger to dementia. Her grandfather suffered from Alzheimer's in the 1970s, and then her father began experiencing symptoms about 10 years ago.

In all, seven family members on her father's side have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's over the last four decades.

Last month, Lopez participated in the association's Walk to End Alzheimer's Stockton, walking for all seven family members.

She's been involved with the association's Stockton Walk Committee for nearly a decade.

"There was a period of time between 2013 and 2014, where my mom would tell me that dad would say strange things," she said. "He like to go out in the morning. He'd go to the credit union and the grocery store, then he'd come back and say he got lost coming home."

As time went on, Lopez said her parents would start receiving phone call from creditors. Her mother was suffering from her own health issues, and her father was supposed to take care of the bills.

Lopez learned her father would forget to pay the bills at times, and eventually, he turned those responsibilities over to her. She'd also take him to all his appointments.

"He started to have balancing issues the last three years of his life," she said. "He never really got hurt, but that part of the brain, he was starting to lose."

In early 2017, she placed her father in a special facility for those suffering from dementia, and visited as often as she could.

Staff would help him walk a quarter-mile path around the facility three times a day. He spent the last two years of his life there before his passing in 2019.

During her time caring for her father, Lopez said she would create "moments of joy," which was simply doing anything to keep him engaged and active. That included taking walks, dancing, playing games or having conversations with him.

"As (loved ones) progress and start losing their memory, they'll lose sight of who you are," she said. "(Dad) always recognized us, but as he progressed, he couldn't communicate well. You could see it in his eyes. Sadly, it's like you're dying while they are still alive."

According to the Alzheimer's Association, some 690,000 California residents were suffering from the disease in 2020. In addition, more than 1.37 million family members acted as caregivers for their loved ones in 2022, working more than 1.86 billion hours.

Lopez said it is never too late for people to get involved with the association if they think their loved ones need help.

"While I was dealing with my dad, I went to as many association seminars as I could," she said. "They are great events. We really need to start educating the community about diversity. Dementia can affect anyone, young or old, and people of all backgrounds and cultures."

To register for next week's forum, call the association at 800-272-3900, or visit tinyurl.com/TCGC23.

For additional resources, visit alz.org.

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(c)2023 the Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, Calif.)

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