Support groups available for Alzheimer’s patients, family

Cathy Buskirk is the manager of the Chiara Center, the unit for dementia patients at St. Francis Home. At the time of this writing, the unit had 19 residents, with space for three more.

Buskirk said the people in her unit get manicures, attend ice cream socials and other activities with the rest of the residents.

“They go on community outings to Denny’s and places like that,” Buskirk said. “Once they become in the end-stages of Alzheimer’s and they’re really not benefiting from the programs any more, we send them back to nursing. Most of them stay the rest of their lives.”

A supervisor from Trinity has offered Buskirk suggestions for additional programs for the unit, such as making memory stories and having families bring in old pictures for their loved ones.

“They’ll each have a box, and when they get upset and it’s hard to talk them down, we’ll open their box,” Buskirk said.

Buskirk also participates in the Alzheimer’s support group at St. Francis. It meets at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of every month at St. Francis Home.

The group consists of caregivers of those suffering from Alzheimer’s or any related memory impairment disease.

Jessica Rogier is the coordinator of the support group, which is free and open to all. No registration is needed.

“We have a couple family members, but most of them are from out in the community that know people and are concerned and want to learn more,” Buskirk said.

Rogier said the support group includes spouses, children, siblings and friends who attend the groups. She reminds participants everything discussed at the meeting is considered confidential and is not to be repeated outside the group. That

way, everyone can be more comfortable.

The monthly meetings typically start with a topic for the night to do some education on the disease and all the aspects that come with it.

“Some of the topics that we have had in the past are how to communicate with your loved one with dementia/Alzheimer’s, behavior and personality changes, the different stages and what to expect next, and we also have guest speakers at times,” Rogier said.

The meeting also includes questions and concerns from members of the group. Those dealing with loved ones with dementia can learn more about the disease, express frustrations and and share tips and advice with each other.

“Those that come have expressed that it is great to be around others that are dealing with the same things. Alzheimer’s disease can be so difficult to understand, as it is different for everyone that has the disease and the symptoms change a lot, too,” Rogier said.

“They truly are supporting each other and that is the best part of all. They are there to get help themselves, but also are giving advice and help to others and that is rewarding too.”

A social worker, Rogier said he has worked at St. Francis for the past 10 years, and the dementia population always has “had a special place in my heart.” Her college training included instruction to facilitate support groups, and she also attends continuing education classes on dementia/Alzheimer’s and yearly training with the Alzheimer’s Association.

In addition, she said she has learned much from individuals in the support group.

“Quite frankly, they have probably taught me the most. There is nothing like real-life experiences when dealing with the disease. I have a lot education on how the disease works and what to expect next, but those that live with it daily are the true experts and the ones that have taught me how to give tips to others on how to help their loved ones,” Rogier said.

Another Alzheimer’s support group meets at 9 a.m. the third Friday of the month at Good Shepherd Home in Fostoria.