Alzheimer’s Support Group Making Strides, Difference
When McConnellsburg resident Freda Raker passed away November 1, 2012, from the complications and effects of Alzheimer’s disease, she left behind her longtime friend, business partner and caretaker Helen Overly. Putting memorial donations made to the Fulton County Medical Center Foundation in Freda’s honor to good work, Overly helped create a support group that helps fellow caretakers and loved ones deal with the expected and sometimes unexpected changes brought about by this debilitating disease.
Now marking its six-month anniversary, the support group, that numbers in excess of 20 members, meets monthly at the hospital to offer support to one another as well as share stories and hear from area specialists about what they can do and expect in the future.
Overly along with fellow support group member Jeanne Strait and hospital rehab clinical coordinator Stephanie White pointed out membership and participation are not just limited to those who have a loved one currently suffering from Alzheimer’s. The group also welcomes individuals who have experienced the loss of a loved one to the disease and those who are merely worried about what the future may hold.
An open dialogue is stressed, and the group promotes sharing through a safe environment, White added.
“It’s not all doom and gloom,” Strait assured the “News.” “We all have funny stories to tell. More than anything, it’s about the support.”
As her mother suffers from Alzheimer’s, Strait, a nurse by trade, has learned as much from the monthly speakers as she has from other caregivers. “It’s not like a normal support group,” she said. “Everyone there is touched by Alzheimer’s in one way or another.”
The trio stated their September 17 featured speaker was local physician’s assistant Megan Barnett, who touched on a variety of issues such as cause, milestones, research, the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s and even posed a battery of questions included as part of an in-home, mini mental exam. Topics in prior months spanned medication use to speech therapy. On October 15, the group will welcome keynote speaker Alan Smith, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging.
“We try to cover all of the topics that are important to a caregiver,” stated Overly, who added that in December special focus will be given to the caregivers regarding how their own care and well-being is as important as the care they are providing to others.
In addition, the Alzheimer’s Support Group will be embarking on a special trip to Chambersburg next month to lend its support to a special walk to raise money for Alzheimer’s disease research. The event is set for October 12 at Norlo Park. Deadline to register is October 4, and interested residents are asked to call the hospital at 485-6108 to register or obtain more information.
According to White, Alzheimer’s disease is one of the least-funded diseases, only receiving $50 million. However, as it is becoming more prominent with the Baby Boomer Generation, it is anticipated even more money will be set aside in the future to aid research efforts.
“It can be a quick. It can be long. Regardless, it’s an awful disease,” Overly said.
The Alzheimer’s Support Group meets the third Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. in the Pearl Room of Fulton County Medical Center. The public is urged to attend, and new members are always welcome.