Dementia Friends teaches how to help those with dementia

Courtesy Photo Alpena Senior Citizens Center Director Annie Hepburn and Program Manager BJ Sander, both certified Dementia Champions, are offering a free program to the community for those interested in learning more about helping those with dementia.

ALPENA — A new program will bring more awareness and understanding of dementia to the community.

Facilitated by Alpena Senior Citizens Center Director Annie Hepburn and Program Manager BJ Sander, Dementia Friends is a one-hour training program that helps family and friends of those with dementia to understand how to cope and react to their loved ones. It also equips anyone in the community to be able to help in a public situation involving someone with dementia, such as if a person appears lost or confused at the grocery store.

“BJ and myself became Dementia Champions,” Hepburn explained, which gives them “the ability to inform our community how to become Dementia Friends.”

She continued, “Dementia Friends is a social action movement developed by The Alzheimer’s Society in the United Kingdom.”

She said the program has five key messages that you teach people about how they can work with a person with dementia.

“How we approach them, how we communicate with them,” Hepburn said. “So, if somebody came in more confused, we would be better informed on how to handle them in that situation.”

She gave an example.

“If you’re at Meijer’s and you see somebody struggling checking out, there’s probably a reason,” she said. “And, I think most of us, kind of, don’t know how to approach an individual, or what to do.”

Hepburn and Sander are available by appointment to come make the Dementia Friends presentation at your workplace or for your group.

“Our goal with Dementia Friends is to educate and inform different community groups,” she said. “I think it’s very important that our community becomes more mindful and educated on dementia,” Hepburn said.

“Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases,” she said, which includes 11% of those age 65 and older, and one-third of those 85 and older. More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.

“Dementia is a general term for the loss of memory and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life,” according to the 2016 pamphlet, “The Basics of Alzheimer’s Disease,” by the Alzheimer’s Association.

For more information, call the Alzheimer’s Association at 800-272-3900, or visit alz.org.

“Younger people can get dementia,” Hepburn said. “And there’s many different types of dementia.”

She noted some signs of dementia.

“Poor judgment, for example, if somebody always took care of their banking, but then they, all of a sudden, can’t balance their checkbook,” Hepburn said. “Or, they always drove on trips to Florida, but now they don’t know how to get there, or they can’t figure out their gas mileage.”

She added that dementia is different than just normal forgetfulness.

“If you can retrack your steps and figure it out, it’s probably just a normal situation,” Hepburn said. “But, if you can’t retrack, and you find your keys in the kitchen cupboard or in the fridge, that’s not a normal mistake.”

She added that there are 10 known signs to determine whether or not dementia or Alzheimer’s is present.

“A lot of times, with dementia, the short-term memory is affected a lot sooner than the long-term memory,” she added. “So, they can remember things from many, many years ago, but maybe not what they had for breakfast, or who was over yesterday.”

She added that the presentation is free, and they can do it at the senior center or come to your business.

Anyone who would like to learn more and become a Dementia Friend is encouraged to call Hepburn or Sander at the Alpena Senior Citizens Center at 989-356-3585.

“I really do feel like dementia isn’t talked about, and sometimes people are embarrassed by it,” Hepburn said. “It’s a condition that we can live with, but we need to get help … It’s important to connect with your doctor early on.”

The senior center has more printed resources available about dementia and Alzheimer’s.


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