New group supports Alzheimer’s caregivers

People who care for someone with Alzheimer?s or dementia often need support for themselves, and in Hillsboro there?s a new group ready to help.

The Alzheimer?s support group meets at 7 p.m., the third Tuesday of each month, at Salem Home, 704 S. Ash, to give caregivers a chance to talk and listen to speakers familiar with the disease.

?Prior to starting a chapter here,? said Sharon Ressler, counselor and group facilitator, ?Newton was the closest location for a support group.

Esther Pankratz, co-facilitator and a caregiver herself, used to drive a group of people to Newton?s support group until there was enough interest to begin a group in Hillsboro.

?She asked me to be the facilitator,? Ressler said, ?and she was willing to be the co-facilitator.?

Ressler said they both went through training from the Alzheimer?s Association.

?We have no study guide, per se, but we do have speakers,? Ressler said.

?Last month (which was also the first month the support group met), we had a certified nursing assistant and her husband, an interim pastor, talking about what life is like on an Alzheimer?s unit (in a nursing home facility),? she said.

Because many caregivers have no idea what happens after they leave an Alzheimer?s unit, it was a good topic and answered many questions.

Ressler said she talked about caregivers taking care of themselves at the Tuesday, Nov. 19 meeting.

?The group can be for people who may not even have a loved one diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer?s, but maybe suspect something is just not right,? she said.

?We welcome parents, a spouse, friends or siblings to the group,? she said.

In addition to helping someone understand the effects of Alzheimer?s, Ressler said, it?s also important for people to keep their sense of humor.

With November being Alzheimer?s Awareness Month, Ressler and Esther Pankratz, co-facilitator and caregiver, both talked about this sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and how they want to help other caregivers.

Esther said her husband, Harold, 79, was diagnosed a little over two years ago.

?A year ago in September,? she said, ?I started going to Newton?s support group.?

She said she knew she needed the help for herself.

?We needed a support group in Hillsboro, but everyone I talked to couldn?t really do it at that time,? she said.

After thinking about it and receiving encouragement from the Newton group, she believed there was enough interest and incentive to have a group here.

?I started working on it three months before it actually happened?I was willing to accept the challenge,? Esther said.

She said she then asked Ressler if she would facilitate the group.

?I do some counseling at my church and a couple of people from church suggested my name to Esther,? she said.

The Alzheimer?s support group in Hillsboro is like other groups in the area being designed specifically for people who take care of someone with the disease.

Alzheimer?s affects a person?s entire life and in the case of Esther?s husband, he diagnosed himself.

?It is rare for someone to know they have Alzheimer?s,? she said.

Pankratz said her husband went to the doctor to confirm his suspicions.

?One of the first things a doctor will do is ask someone to remember three objects like a tree, table and chair. Then 10 or 15 minutes later ask the person to repeat the words,? she said.

Although it wasn?t in her own experiences, Esther said, some people with Alzheimer?s might become confused eating food on multi-colored dishes or trying to eat more than one type of food on a plate.

?The support group is a way to relieve tension and talk things out with someone you know is familiar with the situation,? Esther said.

Meetings are confidential.

Sometimes when a loved one suspects Alzheimer?s or dementia, the group can also provide insight that might help get the afflicted person to the right place.

The sooner the diagnosis, the sooner (a loved one) can get on medication, which can prolong the disease from advancing as quickly, she said.

Both diseases affect memory, said Sharon Ressler, counselor and group facilitator.

Dementia is a loss of mental skills which affect daily life and cause problems with memory and how well someone can think and plan.

Alzheimer?s destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life. Over time, Alzheimer?s gets worse and is fatal. Even experienced caregivers come across baffling situations every day when someone has Alzheimer?s .

Ressler and Pankratz encourage others to join them in support group conversations by sharing their questions, concerns, and tough decisions.

For more information about the group, call Ressler at 620-947-3791 or Pankratz at 620-947-3424.

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