New support group to help Alzheimer caregivers

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Lisa Claire, a former hospital chaplain, has launched the program as a ministry outreach of First Christian Church in Shelbyville.

By Lisa King

Does caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s sometimes seem frustrating or overwhelming?

If so, there is a new organization in Shelbyville that provides a support group for caregivers of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

The group, headed by Lisa Claire, former chaplain at Baptist East Hospital in Louisville, will meet on the third Wednesday of each month at 10:30 a.m. at First Christian Church on Eminence Pike.

Claire, who is now a chaplain intern at First Christian, started the group as part of the church’s outreach ministry, pastor Dave Charlton said.

“This is a great blessing for us as a congregation,” he said, adding that the group is open to the entire community. “I don’t have time to do as many home visits as I’d like, and this will help to extend that ministry.”

Claire earned her master’s degree in divinity 30 years ago, but she said she decided to go into law instead, because neither churches nor congregations were very receptive to female pastors.

But now the time has come, she said, to address an issue she feels strongly about – bringing comfort to care givers of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually grow worse with time. Forgetfulness is usually severe enough to affect the ability to function at work or at home. The symptoms are confusion, getting lost in familiar places, misplacing things, or having trouble with language.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 6 out of 10 people with Alzheimer’s disease will wander off and get lost. There is no cure for the disease, but some drugs and treatments may help with both cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

“There are so many issues facing these caregivers, and they go with their loved ones through so many stages of Alzheimer’s, and within the group, we will explore ways to deal with all of that,” she said. “In the beginning stages, the patient, and the caregiver, become very depressed, because they are aware of what is happening.

“They know they are starting to forget and that it will get worse. Then the depression deepens as they forget who their loved ones are. Then, in the final stages, the patients’ depression lifts because they don’t remember anything, but the caregivers’ depression doesn’t, because they feel they have already lost the best part of them.”

Claire described what she had learned from working with Alzheimer’s patients at Baptist East.

“When a ninety-year-old woman cries out for her mama, all you have to do is hug her, and say, ‘Mama loves you,’” she said.

“As caregivers, people try to get them to stay with them [mentally] for as long as possible.  And when they go, the caregivers don’t know how to go with them.”

Claire said the support group will not only explore ways to adjust to their loved ones’ changing mental states but also material problems, such as how to deal with the financial burden of Alzheimer’s.

Also belonging to such a support group offers people the chance to share the emotions they find hard to express to others, such as frustrations and fears that dealing with Alzheimer’s brings.

Claire said that she has found that American society values two things very highly.

“Money and cognition,” she said. “And the fear of losing that cognitive ability is the ultimate horror to many people.”

“In the group, we will learn that there are ways to communicate with them [Alzheimer’s patients] that people never even realized,” she said. “You can learn to communicate through music, art, colors, so many ways.”

Charlton said he thinks the group will be well received in Shelbyville, as there are no other support groups of its kind in the community.

“It’s a huge, gaping hole in our society,” he said.

Claire said another good thing about the group is that it will allow caregivers to help each other, to provide respite care for a couple of hours in exchange for the same favor.

She said she also plans to bring in speakers, professionals who will give advice about medical issues, financial considerations and the power of attorney.


Alzheimer’s support group

When:10:30 a.m., every 3rd Wednesday

Where:First Christian Church, 1000 Eminence Pike, Shelbyville

More info:Call Lisa Claire at 633-3345 or 502-829-0680