December 01st, 2023

alzheimers 01ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times


Most people are prone to forget things from time to time, but for the most part, the memory is strong enough to operate in daily life.

For an Alzheimer’s patient, though, the world is a little different with memories that come and go through the course of a disease.

Monday and Tuesday, June 11 and 12, Denise Vann, an outreach specialist with the Alzheimer’s Association’s Central and Western Kansas Chapter, will bring some educational programs to the Liberal Senior Center and Brookdale Liberal Springs to educate people about better ways to help people with the disease.

“On Monday, June 11, at the senior center, I’m going to be doing the Living With Alzheimer’s series,” she said. “I will go through the early, middle and late stages of the disease. Tuesday at Brookdale, I’m going to be doing Basics of Alzheimer’s, Effective Communication and Understanding and Responding to Dementia Related Behaviors. All of these classes are open to the general public in Liberal or surrounding communities.”

Based in Wichita, Vann’s Alzheimer’s chapter provides more of the series in Sedgwick County than it does in Western Kansas, but Vann said she is hoping to get out to this part of the state a little more often.

“The other classes, I take about 10, 20 a year out that way, and I try to go in different locations,” she said. “I try to bring as much information to one community as I can. That’s why I’m doing the Living With Alzheimer’s for Seward and Elkhart and all of those communities out that way. Liberal’s kind of a central zone for all those surrounding communities.”

Vann said Liberal Senior Center Director Darlene Ford and Brookdale Director Sondra Montes were on board with the programs right away.

“Darlene, when I called her and asked her if she would be interested in hosting this, she was super excited,” she said. “Sondra’s on the committee for the walk, so she jumped all over that.”

Vann said her curriculum is made up by the Alzheimer’s Association’s home office in Chicago.

“It’s shot down to the chapters,” she said. “We are the Central and Western Kansas Chapter. We go through all the training with these. I have a degree in long-term care, so a lot of my classes that I teach in, I talk a lot about residents and people with this disease that I’ve cared for in the past. It takes a whole lot of effort to try to figure all these classes and how to put your own spin on something that’s going to be appropriate for the outer communities.”

Though she is based in Wichita, Vann is actually from rural Kansas and because of this, she can relate to a smaller community such as Liberal. With Wichita being as far away from the rural parts of Western Kansas though, Vann said she tries to get the maximum out of each visit she makes to this part of the Sunflower State.

“I try to bring as much to the community within a two-day span as I can,” she said. “Not everybody is needing to know about Alzheimer’s. Maybe they want to know how to communicate with their loved one. Maybe they want to understand a behavior that their loved one might be having. Maybe they just want to know the basics of it. I try to bring a variety of different classes out there and try to maximize my visit.”

Likewise, Vann said she hopes to reach as many people as she can during her time in Liberal.

“Between the walk and outreach and programming, I try to cover all those bases when I’m out there,” she said. “I try to extend my reach. If I can get 10, 20 people to these classes, that’s 20 people who didn’t know the stuff before that I’ve reached. I’m trying to get as many people in that two-day span as I can just to kind of see what the needs are of the community and how well received it is. If it’s well received, I can bring it more often.”

Vann said this is the first time she has brought Living With Alzheimer’s to Liberal, so for now, she is looking to test the waters to see how successful the program will be here.

The senior center portion of Vann’s educational event will center around caregivers, and Ford said many times, these are the people who need the most help with Alzheimer’s.

“The person who has the Alzheimer’s, it won’t benefit them,” she said.

Ford said caregivers can be anyone from a spouse to a child to a friend or a neighbor. She added if Vann sees the class going in a different direction, she will work with participants to get questions answered.

“She’ll also give them materials to learn more,” she said. “We’re concentrating on trying to get people in the door, and if they have a concern, she’ll move with a level.”

Ford said professionals can easily see when Alzheimer’s becomes a serious problem.

“It really isn’t just our business and our mind playing funnies on us,” she said. “Alzheimer’s is truly something that doesn’t get better, and they have good days and bad days.”

At the senior center, Ford said all workers try to get to know everyone who comes in the doors.

“They’re friends, and we want them to feel comfortable coming in,” she said. “As things start happening to us, we the employees begin to notice differences in our friends. We do take it upon ourselves if we notice that it’s something that it’s gotten far enough. We will contact their family if we know who they are and tell them that we’re noticing particular things.”

Ford said family and friends of possible Alzheimer’s patients are alerted immediately if a senior center worker sees a problem. This, she said, allows them to have the opportunity to see if there is more to the behavior being exhibited.

“We haven’t had anything here where people were neglected,” she said. “I think in that sense, the senior center is working the way it should. We’re here for people. We want them to be creative. We want them to come have fun, and we want them to learn everything that they can learn about the different stages in lives. We here on these routes. If we came into a situation where somebody is being neglected due to Alzheimer’s, we would definitely take the next step into a safety issue. If it gets to a place where now it becomes a safety issue, we must somehow get hold of the family members to let them know you need to reconsider what’s going on, on your end, for the safety of your parent.”

Ford said in this way, Monday’s program is proactive to help educate people to be aware of behavior that could be the sign of Alzheimer’s.

Tuesday’s portion of Vann’s visit will take place at Brookdale and will feature the basics of memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s, effective communication strategies and understanding and responding to dementia-related behavior.

Montes said the education being brought to Liberal is done for free to anyone to learn about at either Brookdale or the senior center. She added some of her facility management team and a few residents’ families are already planning to attend.

“It’s something that hasn’t been out here for a while,” she said. “It’s time to bring awareness and bring that out there for the public. All they have to do is RSVP to 1-800-272-3900.”

Brookdale is a national sponsor for Alzheimer’s, and Liberal’s facility has a team who participates in the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s every October. Montes said this is part of why the company helps sponsor an event such as next Tuesday’s.

Montes said the problem for many patients, family and friends is that they are in denial of the existence of dementia, and this makes it difficult fot them to handle the situation.

“They might be calling you Bobby all day long, and you’ll be like, ‘No my name is Richard Mother. I’m your oldest son,’” she said. “The more you try to correct them, the more frustrating the situation gets, and you’ll be like, ‘I just don’t know how to handle this. Why does she call me Bobby, and I’m really Richard.’”

Montes said people need to understand that an Alzheimer’s patient likely will not know such information and may likely never know it again.

“Right now, you’re a familiar face, and you’re the little boy who used to bring her newspaper every day,” she said. “That’s what Mom’s going to think of you. It’s not that she doesn’t love you any less or any more. It’s just her brain has stopped.”

In other words, Montes said in order to spend quality time with a patient, a person will simply have to take the journey they are going on at that time.

“Right now, she’s back to the days when Bobby gave her the newspaper, and you were a lovely friendly face,” she said. “She just loved that little boy Bobby. That’s who you are to her today. You just follow that journey.”

Montes said she is excited to see what will happen and what she will learn in terms of communication techniques.

“We do have a few residents who have some lower levels of dementia, so this will definitely help me and my team here,” she said.

Montes said Vann’s training will give Brookdale workers more tools for their tool box and the more that is learned and available to provide families and friends of Alzheimer’s patients, the easier and more quality life becomes.

“When you run into those little blocks in the road and you don’t know what do, now, we have more tools in our tool box to access and be able to use with our residents when they have those roadblocks,” she said.