Alzheimer’s Disease – Caregiver Education

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Guest:  Fran Emerson – Alzheimer’s Association

Host:  Sally Smith - Author/Resource literature on age-related disease and healthy aging


Sally Smith:  Welcome to Age to Age.  I’m Sally Smith.  Let’s talk.  Fran Emerson of the Alzheimer’s Association is here.  Fran has opened my eyes through sharing her vast experience in dealing with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and caregiving.  She has taught me ways of looking at Alzheimer’s, ways of making the best of situations, looking for positive turnarounds with patients by knowing them, looking at the disease, and having a certain attitude yourself.  I’ve learned this through literature that she has written, as well as some classes that have quoted her, and talking with her.


Now, I hear, the good news is that Fran is actually teaching some courses herself, which is exciting to me.  And for anyone that would have the opportunity to take one, it would be an amazing experience, an insight into these subjects we’re dealing with.  Tell us, Fran, a little bit about your course, what it deals with, what sort of goals you have.


Fran Emerson:  I have been working with Trident Technical College, Continuing Education Department, to put on a one-day dementia training, Alzheimer’s and related disorders, an eight-hour, straight through, training.  The idea of this, it usually runs on a Saturday, is to have a certification course; Trident actually issues this certificate, for people who want to train, you know, they’ve maybe already trained as certified nursing assistants, but they want that extra component to go into the workplace and enter the field of caregiving for people with Alzheimer’s disease. 


The day is broken into three parts, mainly, which is the disease itself, understanding it, what it is, what it looks like, how it manifests itself.  Then we talk about communications in the middle part of the day.  And then we talk about the challenging behaviors and sometimes catastrophic reactions, understanding why those things happen, and how all three modules are interconnected, at the end of the day.  We do some role playing, which is fun, and it’s very interactive.  This attracts not only professionals, CNAs (certified nursing assistants) and nurses, family caregivers have attended this course as well.  It’s very important for family caregivers to get as much information and effectiveness into their caregiving as they can. 


Sally Smith:  I think it’s fascinating that it’s open to lay people as well.  Because, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m one of thousands that woke up one day and my life was changed forever due to my mother having dementia.  I didn’t really know that much, and I went to the library where there were books, miles long, on raising children and having children, and about four books on anything close to what I was getting ready to go through, so having an eight-hour training is incredibly practical. 


What I love and respect that you have done is, you can have to-do lists about locking the door and making sure the stove is turned off, but there’s the bigger picture, the overview, of the whole situation, the disease, how the caregivers interact with the patient, having goals that are so much bigger than the minutiae of the everyday activities.  It’s the attitude and the whole way it’s approached that, I think, you have such a grip on.  And that’s something that just does not come across in a book very easily.  It doesn’t come across in a brochure, in the little bullet points about what you do with dementia, and that’s the message I find wonderful.  And where else do can you get it?  You know, someone like you with the experience to say, it can be done this way.  Will you be offering this elsewhere?  I wish you’d, you know, have a speech on your Alzheimer’s website giving your philosophy.  Are there other ways that this information can be made available, or is it mainly through your course?


Fran Emerson:  There are a variety of different ways.  I don’t just do this teaching course.  I go out and do family caregiver workshops pretty much on demand.  You know, facilities will say to me, we have family members who are struggling, struggling with the fact that they have placed their loved one in a facility; they’re struggling with the illness, they’re struggling with the whole thing, can you come out and do a little workshop?  So I will go out and talk about some of the things we’ve talked about, Sally, and try to get caregivers feeling better about themselves.


They’re doing a wonderful job.  And the first thing I try to encourage them to do is to look in the mirror and say what a jolly good person they are, and pat themselves on the back.  You know, so many caregivers are agonizing over how well they’re doing.  So, yes, I can go out.  I can talk like this, discuss things in family caregiver workshops.  We’ve got a great conference coming up, May 21st, at the Elks Lodge here in Charleston.  That’s an annual event.  That’s for everyone. 


Sally Smith:  Well, it’s a great opportunity wherever you can be found.  I can vouch for that.  I think that it’s so interesting that you are so available.  And I want to put it out there, as I speak to our listeners right now, because, really, in my opinion, if I developed the disease, you’re the one I want taking care of me.  I want somebody that thinks like you.  And the more people in institutions, you know, the actual professionals, I think your course should be part of whatever certificates and reeducation.  If someone wanted a church or assisted living, or a group of caregivers, or whatever, wanted to get in touch with you to help organize a time when you would come and speak, would they contact you at the Alzheimer’s Association, what number would they use to reach you, Fran?


Fran Emerson:  They would me call me at 1-800-860-1444.  That’s a toll free number.  You call me, and as many spaces I have on my calendar, I will be able to come out and try to fulfill the needs of your group.


Sally Smith:  Let me ask you one other question, which is, you are, luckily our representative here in our area, Charleston, but many people may be listening across the country, is there a national organization where they could locate the person in their area.  Would they go to a national website?  How would they get in touch with someone in their area?


Fran Emerson:  It’s very easy.  Go to our national website:  Go there and you will see on the menu options Find your local chapter, and you will find an office near you, with all offering services similar to what we offer here in South Carolina. 


Sally Smith:  Okay.  Thank you so much, Fran.  I appreciate your being here, as always.  And thanks to our listeners too for joining us.  We welcome your suggestions, always.  This is Sally Smith, Age to Age, saying good-bye and wishing you courage and joy on your journey.  We are all connected. 


If you enjoy listening to Sally Smith, you can buy her book, The Circle.  It’s the story of how she personally responded to her mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease.  It’s a wonderful gift of hope for anyone with a parent with dementia.  Just click on Sally Smith’s name under the Health Professionals tab on the Podcast home page.  All profits support research at the Center on Aging.  Thanks.

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