Meeting of the Minds for Alzheimer’s community in Minnesota

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“The hardest thing about Alzheimer’s,” said Paul, who has seen its effects in his own family and in his wife’s family, “is the slow, very painful decline. They go from someone you know and love to someone you don’t recognize. It’s a tragedy that lasts six to 10 years.” The tragedy that is Alzheimer’s disease affects a growing number of people. In Minnesota 94,000 people aged 65 and older had Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. By the year 2025, that number is projected to grow to 110,000 people. [Video above from Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota-North Dakota]
On Saturday, March 19, 1100 people attended the Meeting of the Minds conference, hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association at the RiverCentre in St. Paul. Professionals, caregivers, and those in early stages of the disease attended a variety of break-out sessions, which focused on Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

A session on guardianship focused on the issue of protecting the safety and dignity of those with Alzheimer’s and other related diseases while allowing them to make their own decisions. The presenter, Anita Raymond, a social worker at Volunteers of America, later explained that someone with Alzheimer’s disease eventually lacks the insight to see that something is wrong. For family members, this complicates the balancing act between autonomy and protection. At the end of the session, she encouraged attendees to contact her colleagues and her with their questions.

Raymond’s clear desire to be a resource illustrates why people like Catherine McKegney, a doctor in geriatric care, attended the conference. She found resources and people she can use in the future. Dr. McKegney also promised she would recommend the conference to clients and to her extended family. She said she believed they would find the conference very validating.

At another session, Molly Arnold and her mother, Betsy Arnold, shared their experiences of dealing with Alzheimer’s disease in their family. “When people share their stories, you don’t feel so alone,” Molly said.

Learn more, find help
To learn more about Alzheimer’s you can visit the Minnesota-North Dakota chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association website.

The Alzheimer’s Association also has a 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.

You can also download the Alzheimer’s Association’s Facts and Figures 2011 (pdf).

Betsy Arnold’s mother, Barbara Broyles, had Alzheimer’s disease, and the Arnold family moved in with her parents to form a care-giving team. Now, under the Barbara Broyles Legacy, the Arnolds share tips for caregivers. Ultimately, Molly Arnold said the experience “caused us to appreciate the little things in life like being together and laughing.”

In the closing keynote address, a married couple of 38 years, Tom and Julie Allen, shared their experiences since Julie was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in April 2010. In a conversational format, they shared stories about the humor that has continued to be a part of their relationship. In one incident, Julie dismantled their home refrigerator to clean it, but had difficulty putting it back together, something she had always been good at. Tom explained, “We laughed about it after we were done being angry. We’re always laughing together.”

In addition to the seminars, exhibits showcased materials and services for Alzheimer’s and related diseases. Patricia came to the conference to find activities for her mother, who has memory loss and loss of interest. She expressed hope in the books she had found that would help her find and schedule activities for her mother.

Gloria, whose husband has dementia, said she had felt herself transforming “from trying to be a good caregiver to being angry and frustrated.” After attending the conference, she had more knowledge and more hope: “I can’t wait to see him, to smile at him, and to use some of the tools I gained here. It was wonderful. I’m glad I came.”