Dementia conference eases isolation for caregivers

From the Editorial Board

Diane Jordan, left, fixes her mother Margaret's hair. Margaret Belk, 86, suffers from Alzheimer's Disease.
Diane Jordan, left, fixes her mother Margaret's hair. Margaret Belk, 86, suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. AP

You are not alone. That’s been the consistent and essential message offered by the Pierce County Alzheimer’s Caregiver Conference for the past 14 years to people diagnosed with dementia and their caregivers.

This year the free event will take place at Tacoma’s Emmanuel Lutheran Church on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. It pulls together diverse resources and provides caregivers the opportunity to share experiences, successes, frustrations, fears, hopes and stories.

Bob Riler, the community outreach and education specialist for Pierce County Human Services, says prior to the annual conference, there was very little in the way of community support for families who do the majority of caregiving.

Riler says Pierce County follows national statistical trends: One in 10 people over age 65 are diagnosed with the progressive, neurodegenerative disease. More than 5 million Americans live with it.

Caring for loved ones with dementia is difficult; many patients suffer from paranoia and delusions. The caregiver job is sometimes thankless and often expensive.

A memory care facility can cost as much as $10,000 per month or more. Families are left with little alternative but to care for their loved one at home, a task that is both exhausting and isolating. Burnout is a frequent consequence.

The medical community can offer diagnosis and treatment for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, but health care providers may not be familiar with all the South Sound has to offer in terms of services and support.

This year’s conference will cover a range of topics from guardianship and legal concerns to the therapeutic effects of music. It’s sponsored by the Health Care Providers Council of Pierce County (HCPC), a collaboration of more than 200 local professionals who serve older and disabled adults.

The keynote speaker is gerontologist Dr. Laura Wayman. Dubbed the “The Dementia Whisperer,” she encourages caregivers to relate to their loved ones emotionally rather than cognitively and offers techniques on increasing quality interactions.

Riler wants to see Pierce County become a “Dementia Friendly Community,” an idea that’s easy to rally behind. It’s not there yet, but we’re encouraged by an increasing array of opportunities.

Lutheran Community Services offers “Alzheimer’s Cafes” in Tacoma, Gig Harbor and Puyallup where dementia patients and caregivers get a chance to enjoy music, conversation and socialization.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium offers opportunities for regular exercise and socialization. There is no entry charge for individuals experiencing mild memory loss and their caregivers.

Pierce County Aging and Disability Resources do their best to offer respite services, though the need far outweighs available resources.

According to a recent NIH report, the number of Americans afflicted with Alzheimer’s or some other dementia is expected to rise to 16 million by the year 2050.

Funding for Alzheimer’s pales when compared to the dollars funneled into cancer research, but scientists continue to study ways to identify the disease early, and create new and improved treatments for it.

Until a cure is found, the annual Pierce County conference lessens the fear for those who are suffering while providing solid information and caregiver resources.