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New alliance aims to fill gap in Alzheimer's respite care

Longview News-Journal - 9/4/2017

People sometimes complain about their work shifts, but Sondra Freeman never gets to clock out.

That's because her job is taking care of her husband, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2011.

"Some days he is almost completely normal, and some days he is not. It is the weirdest disease in the whole world," Freeman said. "I wouldn't want it for my worst enemy. People that haven't been through it 24/7 - you just can't describe it unless you've been there."

A main goal of the East Texas Alzheimer's Alliance, which formed in February, is to provide more respite care programs for families of people with dementia-related diseases.

Such services are severely lacking in the Longview area, officials say.

About six months ago, Freeman learned about two respite care programs. There, her husband can eat lunch and play games with other people who have dementia-related diseases.

Care on Tuesdays at Greggton United Methodist Church is called Unforgettable Tuesdays, while Thursday's program is at Buckner Westminster Place. On these days, while her husband is being cared for, Freeman gets a break, a time to recharge after the work she puts in on her 24-hour shift.

She said she makes good use of that time and said the programs help her and her husband.

"These places are a lifesaver," Freeman said. "I couldn't make it now without it. It gives me a break and him a break. When he comes home, I ask him what he had for lunch, and he can't remember, but he tells me it was good.

"He also comes home in a 100 percent better mood. There is such an improvement when he comes home, and he is happy. I think the main thing he is there with other people like him, and he feels more comfortable with them."

Kristen Ishihara, an elder law attorney in Longview and a member of the East Texas Alzheimer's Alliance, said there is a huge need for more respite care.

"As an elder law attorney, I see on a daily basis the need our local community has for respite care for families, spouses and children, dealing with an individual that has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia," Ishihara said. "The East Texas Alzheimer's Alliance has a primary goal of providing resources for respite care to those family caregivers.

"We believe this will help alleviate the incredible stress that comes with being a primary caregiver and improve the chances for an individual to remain in their home with quality care from their family.

Wes Wells, executive director at Buckner Westminster Place, said the Thursday respite program provides activities for five seniors, and the spaces are filled by those who are first to RSVP.

Wells, also a member of the East Texas Alzheimer's Alliance, said the group is kept small as to not overwhelm residents. He said those who attend the respite program play chair volleyball with large balloons, sing karaoke, have lunch and then go out for ice cream.

On a recent Thursday at Buckner, Sondra Freeman's husband, Dale, wore a Texas Rangers ball cap and sat on the front row near the volleyball net. In between batting a balloon over to the other side of players, Freeman said he liked coming to Buckner and especially enjoyed lunch.

"I eat a lot, and I'll eat anything," he said with a smile.

For a little more than 10 years, the Unforgettable Tuesday's Day Club has been caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's. Those who attend activities do not have to be members of Greggton United Methodist Church.

Ruby Burnett said an all volunteer staff runs the community group that serves 16 people.

"Most everyone wishes we were there five days a week; it's just a fun, fun time," Burnett said. "It's a social club. We play games, we are patriotic, we have people come to entertain us with musical instruments."

She said she believes she receives more from her role than she gives back.

"This is the greatest thing I've done," Burnett said. "I'm not complete if I miss a Tuesday. It's a blessing to be able to do God's work."

Alliance plans

The East Texas Alzheimer's Alliance has a long-term plan of either purchasing a building or have a building donated where respite care would be provided.

"These are tentative plans now, but our capital campaign is to build a respite care building for $2 million," Ishihara said. "Of course, if we are fortunate enough to have a building donated to us, which is how Texarkana got their building, the campaign would be for the necessary renovations, which would be a lower number."

The group is applying for a $10,000 grant from the Department of Aging & Disability to be able to provide day respite care for residents caring for those with Alzheimer's, Ishihara said. She added the request is pending, so the amount received could be different.

The alliance said it still is gathering area statistics, so it is using those from www.alz.org:

One in 10 people older than 65 have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Texas, by 2025, is projected to have a 30 percent increase in residents who are diagnosed.

More than 15 million people provide unpaid caregiver services to someone in need.

Debra Adams, director of community relations of the Alzheimer's Association Greater Dallas Chapter, said the need for more respite care is local and global.

"The growing need for services is a challenge for all healthcare providers," she said. "In East Texas, culturally, respite services are important to the caregivers because Longview and East Texas itself has a larger senior community than in other parts of the state."

Upcoming events

The East Texas Alzheimer's Alliance is holding a caregiver reception 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Bridge at Mobberly Baptist Church, 625 E. Loop 281.

The event will allow caregivers to meet the founding board members of the East Texas Alzheimer's Alliance.

Alliance members want feedback on how to better serve the community and surrounding areas, and an informal question and answer session will be held.

On Sept. 23, the association and the Alzheimer's Association have scheduled the Walk to End Alzheimer's.

Registration is at 7:30 a.m. with a special tribute ceremony at 8:30 a.m. and the walk beginning at 9 a.m. at Heritage Plaza in Longview. In addition to the 5K walk, participants can enjoy face painting, entertainment and a special tribute to those who have experienced or are experiencing Alzheimer's through the Promise Garden ceremony.

The East Texas Alzheimer's Alliance also is co-sponsoring Mindshare: East Texas Conference to provide Alzheimer's disease research and prevention, best practice strategies for care and support and important "next steps" in dementia-related planning.

The event is scheduled 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.Oct. 17 at the Hilton Garden Inn, 905 E. Hawkins Parkway in Longview. The keynote speaker is Dr. Mary Quiceno, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center, UT Southwestern. To register, call 1 (800) 272-3900.

Wine festival

Ishihara said the East Texas Alzheimer's Alliance also is planning a wine festival such as the one Texarkana has held for the past three years for the Alzheimer's Alliance Tri-State area.

The Twice as Fine Texarkana Wine Festival has been a great fundraiser, according to Allan Wren, director of respite for the Alzheimer's Alliance Tri-State area. Wren's father had Alzheimer's before he died.

"We have more than 7,000 people attend the wine festival this past year," Wren said. "We have met with Longview representatives, and they are very nice. We will be willing to help anyway we can."

Ishihara said the Longview Wine Festival benefiting the East Texas Alzheimer's Alliance is set noon to 7 p.m.April 28 at The Green at Texas 31 and Spur 63.

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