Memory care director Mari Pat McAuliff is passionate about the needs of people with dementia and those who care for them.
“Forty years ago when I started as a CNA, we didn’t know as much as we know now,” said McAuliff, memory care director at Casa del Mare, 3508 Seventh Ave. “The passion has traveled with me.”
Bringing that passion to the community, McAuliff is presenting a three-part dementia education series at Casa del Mare. The weekly series starts today and runs through March 26.
Caregivers and those diagnosed with dementia are invited to attend the free sessions, which run from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and include lunch. “Lunches are more social, rather than a doom and gloom lecture,” McAuliff said.
Each week a different aspect of dementia will be shared through lecture and interactive discussion.
Today’s session, titled “Basics of Dementia: OK, Now What?,” will address concerns of those with a new diagnosis of dementia. “The physicians diagnose it, but then what happens when you go home? What does it mean moving forward, for family life? Your world just starts spinning a bit,” McAuliff said. It’s also about “opening our minds and understanding what these folks are going through.”
The next session, March 19, “Keeping Things Fresh (Day-to-Day Life with Dementia),” will discuss the importance of breaking up daily routines. “It’s about how to keep moving,” McAuliff said.
On March 26, participants will learn “How to Have Meaningful Moments with Your Loved One” during the later stages of dementia. “We’ll look at ‘How can I stay connected for as long as possible?’ and ‘How do I know it might be time to explore other living options?’” McAuliff said.
This is also the stage, notes McAuliff, when “the caregiver becomes the voice and manager of care rather than the doer of care.”
The sessions will include scenarios to help participants get the feel for dementia and understand it, McAuliff said. “We’ll also talk about things that come up. I like to ask more questions of a group than talk at it.”
Each session will also provide handouts and PowerPoint notes.
McAuliff encourages caregivers to bring their loved one with them to the sessions. They are welcome to stay, or participate in alternative activities facilitated by a Certified Recreation Specialist.
Rachel Waller, community relations manager for Casa del Mare, notes that although the facility has offered single workshops on dementia in the past, this is the first time it has hosted a series.
“Education (on dementia) can be hard to come by, especially for those who are struggling to keep their loved ones at home,” Waller said.
It is also hoped that by offering a three-program series, participants may forge useful relationships during them, said McAuliff and Waller.
“Some are looking for personal relationships rather than a large support group,” agreed McAuliff. “And these people are all going through the same experiences.”
LaVerne Jaros, executive director of the Kenosha County Aging and Disability Resource Center, is very supportive about programs like the one offered at Casa del Mare.
“It is very important because the number of people with dementia is certainly growing and it’s important to know as much as you can,” she said.
Jaros added that the ADRC and the Alzheimer’s Association of Wisconsin are both good sources of information for those seeking answers about dementia. “People should know that if they have concerns they can always call ARDC and ask to speak with Susan Johnson, the dementia specialist,” she said.
For families and those who have been diagnosed, dementia education is a positive thing, says McAuliff. “It’s about, ‘OK, let’s just embrace this, there’s still a lot of living to do.’ It’s also believing that there’s something better for those with dementia and those living with it.”