Special Report: Dementia's Caregivers

Published: Feb. 13, 2017 at 5:42 PM CST
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Extra resources are being poured into Wisconsin communities in hopes of making life easier and more enjoyable for the caregivers and the people impacted by the symptoms of dementia.

"Loneliness is a death sentence, which is something we don't like to talk about, but it happens everyday," Armon "Butch" Walsh explained, while attending a Purple Angels event in Marshfield.

The WWII veteran can recall his tours in Italy and Africa, like they were yesterday, but attends the Memory Clinic to help other veterans.

"As being a veteran, I brought a few of my war memorials along with me, and I think they could touch them, maybe they could feel it, bring back a little memory to them," Walsh said.

The Memory Clinic is a safe place, familiar, calming and comfortable, but also interactive and engaging. One big step, to making Marshfield more dementia friendly.

"Dementia friendly communities are places where people with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia live a quality life with value and dignity," Doug Seubert explained.

Seubert started Marshfield's Purple Angels group after caring for his mother who had dementia.

She passed away in late 2014.

According to Seubert, "In our community we want to offer this as sort of a respite for some of our families and caregivers, so they can leave their loved one here with us for several hours knowing that we're going to feed them, that we're going to engage them in meaningful activities and they're going to have fun."

By 2040, the number of people living in Wisconsin with symptoms of dementia is expected to more than double from where it is now.

Central and northern Wisconsin currently have some of the highest populations of those who are 65 and older, and have a higher dementia prevalence.

During his 2016, State of the State Address, Governor Scott Walker announced a plan to fund three major programs across the state assisting dementia caregivers.

"Many don't know that the majority of caregivers for people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease are employed beyond their roles as caregivers," the governor said.

Erin Johnson works with companies in the Wisconsin Rapids area on techniques to make their interactions with clients with dementia more seamless.

"So people understand a little but more about what it is and when they're seeing some of the memory loss or the confusion or maybe un-cooperation, they understand that it's not a person making a choice to act in that way," Johnson said.

Christina Hoyt knows the symptoms all too well.

"I just explained to the kids, that she was living in a different reality than we were," Hoyt said.

Hoyt cared for her grandmother around the clock for more than 2 years.

"We'd have lunch and then 15 minutes later she'd ask, when are we going to eat? Why haven't we had lunch yet, I'm hungry," Hoyt said.

She says, the best advice she can give to anyone in a similar situation is to find help.

"If you start off with good support, than you're less likely to become socially isolated or to suffer from caregiver burnout, or fatigue which happens frequently."

Hoyt was so inspired by the help she received during the care-giving process, she's actually going back to school to get a degree in gerontology, and give back to the community that helped her.

One resource she recommends, the SPARK! program, offered at the Woodson Art Museum.

Lisa Hoffman, Curator of Education at the museum, explains the goals.

"We often try to incorporate multi-sensory props. So, something that would bring in a smell, a taste, something that we could share in the galleries. Music is always a component."

Like other dementia friendly activities blossoming throughout the region, "SPARK!" offers a safe place to laugh, engage and enjoy a stress free part of life.

"We want to say that we've enjoyed it and we've appreciated it and we've lived it, and we didn't just watch someone else live it," Rachel Riehle said.

Rachel Riehle is a Life Enrichment Coordinator at a local assisted living facility. She's been bringing her clients for years.

"So if you're becoming more creative, and you're finding that creative self, than often times people become less angry, less depressed," Riehle explained.

Less depressed and overall, not so alone.

A major goal across the state, for dementia friendly communities.