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Workshop teaches how help fight dementia

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Helping families: Yana Swainson and Courtney Smith are offering courses in dementia care

The greatest challenge to dementia caregivers can sometimes be the families of their patients.

Many go through a period of denial, confused by the ups and downs of the disease.

“They think mom is going to be okay,” said Yana Swainson of Bermuda In Home Care. “They say to me, ‘Yesterday, we had a conversation with mom and she was fine. Today, she is just pretending to forget things’.”

Courtney Smith has noticed the same.

“The family denies there is anything wrong with their loved one,” said the EMT, who is also a medical assistant. “The next thing you know, two weeks later, the person with dementia is in the doctor’s office because they’ve burnt their hand to bits while they tried to cook something.”

They blame it on a lack of education. A lot of families simply don’t know what to expect.

It’s because of that they are holding a workshop for anyone affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Both have experienced it in their families.

Ten years ago Beverley Causey-Smith, developed dementia after a series of strokes. “I thought of my mother as a bit of a burden in terms of time and patience,” said Ms Smith, 26.

It became her job to make sure her mother took her medication. Left on her own, Ms Causey-Smith would stash the pills under blankets or pillows, or hide them under her tongue until she could get rid of them.

“She wasn’t a particularly patient person, and me, as her daughter, trying to reflect patience at her was a mess,” Ms Smith said.

Ms Causey-Smith, 57, died in July 2011. Ms Swainson had a similar experience with an elderly aunt. “I was young and I was scared of her,” the 35-year-old said. “I pretty much just thought she was crazy and I needed to stay away from her.

“But it wasn’t her being crazy, it was just the disease — dementia. I feel bad that sometimes she wanted to talk to me longer and I just wanted to leave.”

She feels Bermuda is behind the times when it comes to caring for the estimated 2,000 residents with dementia-related issues.

The trend in the United States and in England is to keep them separate from other patients in rest homes and hospitals to meet their specific needs: quiet surroundings, familiar objects and specifically trained caregivers. “At present there is no facility dedicated to dementia,” Ms Swainson said. “Westmeath has a memory care section

“Most people with memory issues are just lumped together with other patients in nursing homes. Sometimes the nursing home will call the family and say they can’t take care of the person any more. Then, the family has to hire a private caregiver.”

Having short-term care would also be helpful.

“In some places, you can drop your loved one off for a few hours,” Ms Smith said. “This allows the caregiver to rest. Dementia care is not about giving the patient their breakfast then leaving them for the rest of the day. It is constant.

“It is very taxing. It takes a lot of emotional effort. We are hoping that the more education you have about what to expect, the less likely you are to actually become burnt out.”

With the Bermuda Census predicting 22 per cent of the population will be older than 65 by 2030 their course is timely, she added.

“2030 is not very far away, and we are anticipating a big increase in dementia patients not just here, but also in the rest of the world.

“Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, but other things can cause dementia as well. The greatest risk factor is age. As we increase in age, our risk of developing it increases.”

The women are offering the course through Bermuda Health Education, an organisation they started that offers a range of medical courses.

“As healthcare professionals, we all have to do ongoing medical education,” Ms Smith said. “It is very difficult to find local courses, and learning online doesn’t work for everyone. Some of us are more hands-on learners.”

The Bermuda Health Education workshop takes place July 9 and 12 from 5.30pm until 9.30pm. For more information: 705-5483 or instructor@bdahealth.com

Care giver: Courtney Smith and her late mother Beverley Causey-Smith