December 14, 2017
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Alzheimer’s Support Group Benefits Caregivers and Health Workers

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Cary Medical Center began an Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group in 2011 thanks to the initial support of a grant from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. The hospital partnered with the Aroostook Area Agency on Aging (AAAA) to develop the program. The group has continued to meet and is now in its fourth year. Caregivers attend the meetings on the third Tuesday of every month at 1:00 p.m. at the Gray Memorial United Methodist Church in Caribou. The group provides an opportunity for sharing experiences, learning about resources and to have the support of peers coping with the many challenges of caregiving. Bill Flagg, Director of Community Relations and Development at Cary Medical Center, said that the group has been a great benefit to caregivers and to health care professionals as well.
“Participating in the support group is truly a privilege”, said Flagg who co-facilitates the monthly meetings. “To hear the love and compassion of these individual caregivers and the dedication they have to their spouses or other individual they are caring for is so inspiring. It also helps us, as health care workers, to learn of the complexities that these caregivers face. By learning more about their specific needs we can adapt services or bring new services that can serve them better.”
The support group is small with some 6 – 8 people attending. Several caregivers have stayed with the group since the beginning. New members will join from time to time and Flagg said the group is open to anyone who is caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia. Participants in the support group say that the environment is comfortable to share information.
“The support group is great because it gets people together who are facing some of the same kinds of challenges”, said Jim Totman of Caribou who attends the monthly meetings with his wife Gloria. The Totman’s were full-time caregivers for a number of years. “It is wonderful how each caregiver can offer something to help another and it’s comfortable to share.”
Not only do the Totman’s attend the monthly meetings, they also bring helpful information, from articles they have read or from experiences they have had. Flagg said that it really has provided great benefit.
“Gloria and Jim are a wealth of information about caregiving”, said Flagg. “Each month they bring something that can be shared by everyone and we also mail the information to everyone on our mailing list. Unfortunately a number of caregivers are not in a position to leave their loved one and so we mail to them every month. We know they appreciate receiving the information.”
Sharon Berz, Director of Long Term Care Services for the Aroostook Area Agency on Agency who co-facilitates the support group said that working together with Cary Medical Center has been a benefit for the program because of the hospital’s ability to promote the program and their commitment to the project.
“The hospital has been committed to the project over the past four years and uses their strength to communicate with the caregiving community”, said Berz who also trains caregivers through the Savvy Caregiver Program. “Our agency has been involved with support groups and training programs for years and we know the benefits that a group like this can offer the caregiver and those for whom they provide care.”
Berz also pointed out that by attending the support group caregivers learn about community resources and services that are available and they can connect with those services through the Area Agency on Aging.
“Many times people can become overwhelmed by the responsibility of caregiving”, said Berz. “It is so important that caregivers learn to take care of themselves and that there are a number of services out there that can come to their aid. We try and communicate this through the support groups and other vehicles.”
The goal for the next year is to expand upon the support group and increase the participation. Flagg said that the reality is that Alzheimer’s disease is a growing and challenging health issue that demands an urgent community wide response.
“Today more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, 25,000 here in Maine. Every 67 seconds another person gets diagnosed”, Flagg said. “Some 68,000 family caregivers are providing more than $900 million dollars in unpaid care and the disease cost the nation an additional $214 billion dollars in 2013. By 2050 the number of people with Alzheimer’s is expected to reach 16 million with costs at over $1 Trillion dollars. At Cary Medical Center we want to do all we can to support caregivers and to assist patients and their families who are struggling with this tragic illness that robs people of their most precious memories.”
Anyone who would like more information about the Alzheimer’s Support Group sponsored by Cary Medical Center and the Aroostook Area Agency on Aging, should call the hospital’s office of community relations at 498-1112.