About 70 health care professionals and home care givers from all over the Kenai Peninsula gathered at the Homer Senior Citizens Center Feb. 22 and 23 for a rare and free opportunity to learn more about dealing with problems of caring for elderly dementia patients.
The two-day workshop led by Kentucky-based sociologist and dementia consultant Dee Carlson focused on "thinking out of the box" and avoiding hasty evaluations about why Alzeimer's disease sufferers may act in confusing or disruptive ways, said Betsy Pitzman, activities coordinator at the Homer center.
Another free workshop for certified nursing assistants and other care givers is set for Friday and Saturday at the Soldotna Senior Center. That will be led by Ohio consultant Naomi Fell. Carlson will be back for sessions April 19 and 20 at the Aspen Hotel in Soldotna.
The workshop was part of a series of training events funded by a $50,000 grant from the Alaska Commission on the Aging and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. With the ballooning number of elderly in America, dementia, Alzheimer's disease and related problems are at epidemic proportions, according to the American Health Assistance Foundation.
While caring for such patients in group facilities or at home is often difficult, Carlson stressed going beyond labeling actions by confused elderly as "wanderers" or disruptive personalities.
"She likes to go deeper," Pitzman said of Carlson's training methods and evaluation techniques.
Noting that some dementia patients may act confused at certain times of the day, or regularly wander outside their homes as if searching for something, Carlson counsels care givers to look into the patient's background that might uncover an old routine they might be unconsciously acting out.
"This person may be trying to tell us something," Pitzman said. "It's a very great problem ... people lose their orientation."
"The workshop validated the whole thing that everybody is a person," she added, "and the people who are on the front lines have to ask why is this a problem."
All of the workshops are under the grant coordinated by Fred Lau, administrator of the Homer Senior Citizens Center. Although the state grant runs out June 30, Lau said it was designed as a two-year effort to help train care givers, so "we can apply for another $50,000 so we can put on another series" in the coming fiscal year starting July 1.
R.J. Kelly is the managing editor at the Homer News.
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