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Living with Alzheimer's
November 15, 2010
Living with Alzheimer's

Posted by Kathy Burnes

Papa, by Julie Friedland

Frail but bright.
Slowly kissed our hands.
No words, just smiles.
Fragile with loving care.

Slowly kissed our hands.
Stumbling toward us, ready for a hug.
Fragile with loving care.
Along with love, we brought him ice cream.

Stumbling toward us, ready for a hug.
Talking slowly, we told about school.
Along with love, we brought ice cream.
His nursing home had the smell of a loved one.

Talking slowly, we told about school.
No words, just smiles.
His nursing home had the smell of a loved one.
Frail but bright.

Julie Friedland is the daughter of Sy Friedland, the Chief Executive Officer of Jewish Family & Children’s Service. She wrote this poem when she was eight years old about visiting her grandfather who had Alzheimer’s. Julie is now 25 and continues to write.

Sy read Julie’s poem when he welcomed participants to “Everyday Living with Alzheimer’s: Creative Approaches from Research and Practice,” a symposium recently hosted by JF&CS for more than 200 professionals and caregivers, including 25 JF&CS staff. 

We were thrilled with the tremendous response and know that it reflected a real need in the community. Various dementias, including Alzheimer’s, will be a major issue for professionals in the coming years as baby boomers age.

Because the conference focused on creative approaches, people who attended left with an understanding that, although a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is terribly frightening, there are creative, non-pharmaceutical interventions that can have tangible benefits for the patient and family. People can live between 10 and 20 years after a diagnosis; it is not the end of a person’s life. Therefore, it can be most reassuring to understand that there are ways to continue to appreciate that person and have meaningful experiences together.

Pam DeColo, clinical director of the JF&CS Guardianship program, said, “The symposium was outstanding from start to finish. Sy set the perfect tone with his young daughter’s beautiful poem –conveying the day’s theme: ways of connecting with individuals with dementia by accessing their intact brain functions. The presentations thoughtfully integrated new developments in neuroscience with the inspirational, evidence-based work of Artists for Alzheimer’s. I left feeling energized by fresh perspectives on Alzheimer’s.”

The conference, which recognized the long-term support of the Lebovitz family, was co-sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association. Dr. John Zeisel gave the keynote address, titled, “I’m Still Here,” which emphasized that one can focus on interventions that address the present, such as art, and that these interventions will tap into memories and emotions that still exist. A panel presentation followed. This included: a discussion by Dr. Andrew Budson, entitled, “Memory in Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders,” which made a fairly complex topic accessible; a presentation by Dr. Jae Hee Kang, “The Relationship Between Lifestyle Changes and Cognitive Function; and “Changing Dynamics: How Alzheimer’s Affects Families,” presented by Karen Wasserman, director of Your Elder Experts.

The third part of the program, “Concurrent Workshops: Practical Strategies for Professional and Family Caregivers,” was led by Anna Hall, Director of Activities, Rogerson House; Beverly Moore, RN, CS, Founder and Director of the Alzheimer Coaching service, StilMee; and Sean Caulfield, Co-founder of ARTZ. They offered hands-on techniques using the arts, social networking and web-based technology, and Alzheimer’s coaching methods.

Both professionals and caregivers left with information and inspiration. Participant comments included: “The training will enhance my personal experience with my Dad. Thank you,” and “Wonderful presentations; very informative; communicated hope, respect, and care for both caregiver and patient.” As well as such complimentary comments, we got lots of good suggestions from participants that will be invaluable to us in creating future programs.

Kathy Burnes is project manager of the JF&CS Geriatric Institute, which focuses on developing and implementing projects that translate research into community-based services. Prior to coming to JF&CS in 2007, she worked as a senior research associate at Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship, and at the National Center on Women and Aging at Brandeis University. Kathy also worked for AARP and Operation ABLE of Greater Boston. She has a BA from the University of Michigan and a MEd from Northeastern University.

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