Cheryl Whalen is not a stranger to dementia. She dealt with individuals with dementia as a social worker in the past, but it was entirely different when it was her own parents. Her father, now deceased, and her mother, now 77, were both diagnosed.
“Having to deal with it in my own family was totally different then when I was dealing with my clients,” Whalen said. “It was a whole different ballgame. I was the one who had to deal with it and it was very difficult. Dementia is really heartbreaking.”
It is currently estimated that 52,000 Kansans are currently suffering from dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases.
Individuals with dementia have varying symptoms. Her parents were in denial and didn’t allow any help with finances, which quickly went south as conditions became worse. Her father's personality also changed as a result.
“It was actually kind of disastrous,” she said. “It was one of the hardest things that happened. It’s hard seeing things they built up in their lives just kind of fall apart.”
Although Whalen had some knowledge going into the difficult situation, she said it was not easy.
“You’re missing your loved ones,” she said. “If you’re the daughter or son or spouse, and walk into it blindly, you can loose your mind. If you’re not educated and don’t know what you're doing, then you don’t know how to keep them out of dangerous situations.”
This kind of education can be found if families look in the right place. Pine Village in McPherson has 14 residents in its memory care neighborhood, cared for by knowledgeable staff. The neighborhood is full and has a waiting list.
“We’ve just been seeing an increase in people calling us and needing more information and looking for places for their loved one,” Shelby Shaw, director of marketing at Pine Village said. “Anytime you can educate yourself on a subject, it’s important to get as much information as possible, especially if you’re affected by it. The more you understand, the more you can help someone suffering from it.”
In response to the increased interest, the facility is hosting a dementia educational series for the public beginning next month.
The new six-session series will focus on how dementia works, its stages, and resources available for caregivers and family members. Reservations for the class are half full.
“I think people are aware of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, but as far as knowing what happens, its not something that people want to learn about unless it directly affects them. Then it’s usually a crash course,” Shaw said, adding Pine Village hope to prevent this and promote awareness.
“We’ve discovered we can be a resource to others. We have the knowledge, so we’re going to start helping family members.”
Individuals do not have to attend all meetings, but the series will cover a different topic each time. The series will also include guest speakers, such as physicians and representatives from the Alzheimer's Association. The format will be both lecture and interactive style.
This class could help others like Whalen recognize the situation and deal with it appropriately.
“I think any extra knowledge is invaluable,” Whalen said. “It can make them (the educated family) feel like they’re not alone. The more knowledge you have the better.”