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Finding Support After a Lonely Year

Resources Available for Community Members Affected by Alzheimer’s

By Mary Beth TeSelle
Whether facing dementia or Alzheimer’s yourself or caring for someone who is, local care providers want to remind the community that resources and support are available. Many are free of charge.

The past year has taken a toll on all of us, but some in our communities have felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic more profoundly. One group hit especially hard by pandemic-related disruption, stress, and isolation has been those living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses.

“The social isolation in particular was a negative outcome, and I think there was an increase in depression and mental health issues,” explains Judy Kautz, LCSW, coordinator of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation’s Alzheimer’s Outreach Program. “I had a few family caregivers share that they felt their loved one’s cognitive decline was accelerated during the pandemic.”

And it wasn’t just the patients feeling the impact. Kautz says those who love them and care for them were affected too.

“Family caregivers were particularly hit hard as they were not able to have the same support networks they may have relied on before, such as people coming to the home to provide much needed breaks,” she says. “Undoubtedly, those caregivers suffered with increased rates of depression as well. Caregivers already are at great risk for mental and physical health issues in their roles, often subjugating their own needs for the needs of their loved ones.”

Like many people living with chronic illness, memory impaired individuals depend on health support services. Those services were curtailed or, in many cases, completely cancelled due to the pandemic and sheltering in place orders.

Fortunately, Kautz says services and support are available once again.

“Services in our community have greatly opened up,” she says.

Helping Hands, the Adult Day Program that provides caregiver respite out of Penn Valley three days per week has reopened as of last month. One Source, the caregiver respite organization that provides volunteers to visit homes, is open. FREED is offering friendly visitor services again, though there is a waitlist. And support groups are happening, though many are still meeting primarily online. [See resources above for contact information.]

Kautz serves as the Alzheimer’s Outreach Program Coordinator under Sierra Nevada Home Care in partnership with Sierra Nevada Hospital Foundation, offering help with resources, coping, planning and education around the Alzheimer’s disease process.

Anyone suffering from any type of memory impairment qualifies for Kautz’s services, which are free.

Although she had to transition her consultations to over the phone or via Zoom during the heart of the pandemic, she is pleased to once be providing services to those in need in the community.

“Much of the work I do is focused on supporting caregivers in their role, both providing practical tools and resources, as well as education around disease progression, communication strategies, managing difficult behaviors and planning for the future,” she explains.

Kautz says there will be upcoming educational classes for caregivers in September (dates to be determined). These classes will cover a variety of topics, including Advanced Care Planning, Legal and Financial Planning, Nutrition, Community Resources and Elder Care Options, and Legal and Financial Planning.

There is also a special series dedicated to caregivers of those with dementia that will resonate with many people grappling with this issue, and hopefully provide much needed tools to better understand the disease and how to best communicate to decrease stress in the home and maximize equanimity. This series is called “Remember Me” and will be offered in November.

Kautz encourages anyone in need of support for a loved one who may be facing a memory impairment issue to reach out, particularly if they delayed seeking help during the pandemic.

“I think the most important thing I would want our families to know is that they are not alone and it is OK to ask for help,” she says. “This journey can be a long one and it is ever changing and full of heartache.  There are many others experiencing similar things in our community, and it can help tremendously to recognize the shared experience.”

Kautz’s role and the Alzheimer’s Outreach Program are funded by the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation. Her services, including consultations and the support group, are available at no charge.

Available Resources

Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation’s Alzheimer’s Outreach Program: Services are available at no charge to anyone in the community in need of support or resources. To access the program for a consultation, or for details on the support group, call or email Program Coordinator Judy Kautz, LCSW (530-557-5530 voice or text, or Judith.Kautz@CommonSpirit.org). Linda Aeschliman can provide more information on resources and upcoming classes: 530.6480.59 or linda.aeschliman@dignityhealth.org.

FREED: Available for resource linkage and assistance with food bank delivery for isolated elders and people at risk. Call 530-477-3333.

One Source Empowering Caregivers: 530-205-9514

Nevada County Senior Outreach RN Program: 530-265-1470.


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