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Is it Alzheimer’s or just information overload?

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image Dolores Berens

Both serious and fun events are planned for Jan., 22, 25 and 26

By PENNY FLETCHER
 
SUN CITY CENTER — Three separate public events sponsored by two groups are set for Fri., Jan. 25 and Sat., Jan. 26 connected to memory loss, so don’t forget the dates.

“Some forgetfulness is nothing to worry about- maybe you just have a lot on your mind,” said Dr. Kenneth Barringer, the retired Methodist minister and clinical psychologist, who founded the South Shore coalition for Mental Health and Aging a year after moving to Sun City Center from Wisconsin in 1996. (The Coalition was originally founded under another name but is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit encompassing S. County and beyond.) “Some forgetfulness does come with age,” Barringer said. “But that is usually only in short term memory — like misplacing my keys — not in long term.”

Both the Coalition and the Samaritan Alzheimer’s Auxiliary of Sun City Center have events connected to helping those who have- or may have- Alzheimer’s and their families.

Two upcoming events are scheduled by the Coalition to help the public understand more about mental illness and about making good choices. The events also will help people find out what support is available to them.

First the Coalition will sponsor a free memory screening at Sun Towers Retirement Center (behind Winn Dixie) Trinity Lakes Boulevard, Tuesday, Jan. 22 from 10 to 11 a.m.

Then it will hold an (open public) board meeting of the Coalition at the Sun City Center Chamber of Commerce office in the Sun City Center Plaza (near the Post Office) between 1 and 3 p.m. Fri., Jan. 25. It will be open to anyone who would like to share ideas and needs with those who can help make things (like support and testing) happen.

Meanwhile, the Samaritan’s Alzheimer’s Auxiliary will be holding its first Variety Show Sat. Jan 26 at 7 p.m. in the Community Hall, 1910 S. Pebble Beach Boulevard.

Tickets are $20 and all proceeds will go for “caregiver respite.”

“This is the first year we have had a variety show,” said Dolores Berens, president of the Samaritan Alzheimer’s Auxiliary Respite Care group and director on the Samaritan services Board. “Up until this year, we always had a fashion show, but we can only have about 200 people to that. We hope to get more than 400 at the show. We really need the funds because the needs are so great.”

A caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient often spends many consecutive days alone with the patient in the home and is forced to give up many other aspects of life.

The respite care program offers three ways to do this: 50 hours of free care (provided as a donation by the care companies) in a professional setting; one week of day care in one of three participating facilities; or a one-week stay at a participating assisted living facility.

“This allows the caregiver to have a few days of breathing time to get back into life,” Berens said.

Care will be provided for the patient so caregivers can enjoy the show, she said.

They have obtained a professional magic act from New Your City- Philip & Henry- a 16-year-old singer, Charlie Zipperer from Lennard High School in Ruskin, and performances by Nancy Burridge of the Brandon School of Dance.

Patty Suraz of the Southwest Florida Department of Aging services is volunteering her services to act as Master of Ceremonies.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call (813) 634-1418.

“Even with discounts, care in professional settings is not cheap and depletes our funds very quickly,” Berens said. To date the group has filled 325 caregiver respite applications.

Meanwhile, Barringer’s events will give hands-on help for anyone who thinks they (or a friend or family member) may have dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is only one aspect.

New tests can show whether it’s early dementia or even Alzheimers disease (which falls under the umbrella of dementia). Now there are even some medications that can be taken to slow the progression if memory loss is caught in the early stages, Barringer said.

 “Mental health is always at the short end of the stick. We get the least money, and we get it last,” Barringer said in an interview Jan. 3. “We need to make people aware that there is help for both the person with memory loss and for their families.”

There are even some new medications that can slow the progression of dementia if caught in the early stages and tests that can tell you if what is happening is really dementia or just natural forgetfulness.

People with the onset of Alzheimer’s (which is a serious form of dementia) begin with forgetting things like taking their medications and remembering to go to appointments. Some may even forget their children’s or best friend’s names, he said.

With all these events this month, the public will have plenty of chances to find out more about Alzheimer’s, other types of dementia and mental disease (and staying mentally healthy) as well.

Although both organizations work separately, they both work with the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute in Tampa and suggest families who are concerned about someone’s behavior and think it may be Alzheimer’s make an appointment for a test and clinical evaluation there.

The Coalition has two programs for which it has trained volunteers and is open to more people receiving training in the future.

“There’s a program pioneered at Sarasota Memorial Hospital called ‘Mind Set,’ ”Barringer said. “They trained our people (in Hillsborough) and supplied our materials so we could do it here.”

This is a skilled training program for people with mild memory loss that gives concrete ideas on how they can improve their memory. There are exercises and materials they can use at home so they can keep doing it after they leave the program.

The Coalition is also developing a program developed by the National Alliance for Mental Illness which will be a support group for families.

“You wouldn’t believe the calls I get,” Barringer said. “A parent of a 40 year old called me and said her son gets off his meds and loses his job and his place to live and asks me what she should do now? Families need help as much as the people with the mental illness.”

The Coalition and the upcoming events will also tell about ways to keep your mind sharp.

Engaging in regular exercise; keeping a healthy diet; finding mentally stimulating things to do like computer games or card games like bridge;reading and sharing what’s been read with others (for learning and retention ability); writing letters and/or keeping a journal;keeping in contact with friends and family; maintaining good stress management practices; asking for help when crises occur; and trying to get good sleep; all help keep the mind in tact, Barringer said.

People who can bend with the flow and not be rigid and who do not object strongly to change have also been shown to live longer, he added.

Every fall the Samaritan Alzheimer’s Auxiliary of Sun City Center gives an all-day seminar with speakers from Byrd Institute and other places and also offer testing. The most recent of these was Feb. 29, 2011, and while there, keynote speaker Dr. David Morgan of USF stated that by 2020 there should be medication that can at least partially impede the progression of  Alzheimer’s, Berens said.

Anyone interested in mental health is welcome to attend any or all of the events listed in this story.

The Coalition may be reached at its office in Sun Towers Retirement Community in  Sun City Center, 101 Trinity Lakes Drive, Suite 254; by calling (813) 419-4902 or emailing Sandy Council at sandy@mentalhealthandaging.org.

To reach the Samaritan Alzheimer’s Auxiliary, call (813) 634-1418 or stop by the Samaritan services office, on the far east side of the buildings in Sun City Center Plaza facing N. Pebble Beach Blvd.  

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