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Free program offers help to Alzheimer's caregivers

by: PHOTO: MERRY MACKINNON - Alzheimer's Grant Project Coordinator Bethany Chamberlin conducts the telephone screening for a program offered by Multnomah County to family caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer's or other dementia.Multnomah County Aging and Disability Services has a message for those who are living with and caring for relatives with Alzheimer’s or related dementia.

“Call us,” says Bethany Chamberlin, Alzheimer’s grant project coordinator. “We’re here to help.”

The help consists of a free six-week educational program for family caregivers. “A lot of caregivers are so overwhelmed,” Chamberlin says. “We want to give them the tools so they can keep their loved ones at home.”

The first step in accessing the service is for a caregiver to call Chamberlin, who will conduct a screening over the phone to see if the caregiver’s loved one is manifesting certain typical behaviors.

“We need to get a sense that the behaviors are driven by dementia,” she says.

Such behaviors may include aggression, sadness, resistance to care, sleep issues and wandering.

The loved one doesn’t have to have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Chamberlin adds, explaining that Alzheimer’s is just one type of dementia: “Every case is so different. Sometimes they may have dementia along with other health issues such as Parkinson’s.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in Oregon 76,000 people age 65 and older had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s as of 2010. By 2025, that number is projected to grow to 110,000.

“It’s a scary process for somebody who starts to suspect that perhaps they are having a problem with their memory,” Chamberlin says.

After the telephone screening, which takes about 30 minutes, if it’s apparent to Chamberlin that the type and frequency of behaviors cited point to dementia, then the caregiver is assigned a consultant, who is a local district center case manager.

Developed by the University of Washington and called STAR-C, the program aims to give the caregiver tools to navigate the challenges of caring for a family member with dementia.

“Many caregivers are subject to depression and feelings of frustration,” Chamberlin says. “Our goal is to decrease the stress and burden on the caregiver and improve the quality of life for the person with dementia.”

Over a six-week period, the consultant makes four visits to the caregiver’s home, which is also the place where the person with dementia lives.

The program emphasis is to help the caregiver identify the triggers that might exacerbate the loved one’s behaviors that make life difficult for the caregiver, as well as for the person with dementia. If the caregivers, for instance, lose patience, which Chamberlin says is not uncommon for overworked caregivers, that might cause further problems.

“People with dementia don’t have the same coping skills. They may lose the ability to even speak sentences to represent what they’re feeling,” Chamberlin says. “They can’t think of words like, ‘Wait! Slow down,’ and they become frustrated.”

In Chamberlin’s opinion, cases of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementias are under-reported. And often caregivers are hesitant to connect with services. “But just call and see,” she says. “We’re here for you and your family and to let you know you are not alone.”

Resources

  • Alzheimer’s Grant Project Coordinator Bethany Chamberlin can be reached at 503-988-3620, ext. 22020.

  • Multnomah County’s STAR-C program is available only to Multnomah County households.

  • For referral to other senior services, such as Meals On Wheels or transportation help, call the Multnomah County Aging and Disability Services Helpline at 503-988-3646 (TTY 503-988-3683).