Innovative Alzheimer’s Care Is Topic of Event


Life Editor

Two area organizations plan to introduce innovative methods to help caregivers, families and clergy communicate and connect with people living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

Faith in Action Caregivers Inc. and the Altenheim Resource and Referral Center in Wheeling will offer a special program, “The Memory Bridge: Creating Meaningful Communication for Those Living with Alzheimer’s Disease,” next year.

Ann Koegler, coordinator of the resource center, and Jeanette Wojcik, executive director of Faith in Action, said the sessions will be conducted at Wheeling Jesuit University’s Troy Theater Sept. 17-19.

The workshop will begin with a two-day presentation by clinical social worker Naomi Feil for family, volunteer and professional caregivers. Participants will learn validation therapy techniques that Feil created over a 17-year period.

The second day of the workshop will conclude with a presentation by Michael Verde, founder and president of Memory Bridge: The Foundation for Alzheimer’s and Cultural Memory, who will address “The Spiritual Nature of Dementia Care.”

Participants must attend both days of the workshop. The cost will include materials, a continental breakfast, lunch and breaks both days. Continuing education units for nursing and social work will be available for an additional fee. The two-day workshop is open to the public; the registration deadline is Aug. 30.

On Sept. 19, Verde will offer a workshop for clergy only on “Spiritual Issues of Dementia Care.” This one-day workshop will help clergy minister to members of their congregations who have some form of dementia and to their caregivers. The cost for this one-day seminar includes materials, a continental breakfast, lunch and breaks.

Feil’s breakthrough approach offers a way of reaching the new reality of the person living with Alzheimer’s disease, Wojcik said. This method offers the possibility of “enhancing the quality of life of the care receiver and the caregiver,” she said.

“It’s not really new, but it is different. It’s looking more to person-centered care,” Koegler said regarding Feil’s and Verde’s approach. In communicating with people living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Feil and Verde are “meeting them as individuals and touching them as individuals,” she said.

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Funding for the project has been provided by the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley and the Wheeling Automobile Club Fund. Additional funding is being sought through other grant requests.

Susie Nelson, executive director of the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, said $5,000 has been allocated to the project from the foundation’s community impact fund; grants from that fund are awarded “according to changing needs in the community.” She observed that caring for people with Alzheimer’s “is an emerging need in our community so we felt it was important to provide support.”

Mark Phillips, executive assistant in the president’s office at WJU, said providing meeting space for a workshop “that speaks to so many people” is part of Wheeling Jesuit’s efforts to “reach out to the community around us.” He remarked, “We hope that a university like ours can be seen as a real asset to the community.”

Phillips said university officials also hope students see that hosting such an event demonstrates the Jesuit commitment to “life, leadership and service with others.”

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The program organizers said validation therapy has been widely embraced since it began in 1963. Feil created validation therapy between 1963 and 1980 in response to her dissatisfaction with traditional methods of working with severely disoriented individuals.

Feil has explained that validation is a tested model of practice that helps older disoriented people reduce stress, enhance dignity and improve happiness. Validation accepts the person who returns to the past. The retreat is seen as “survival,” not mental illness or disease.

In the standard approach to those living with Alzheimer’s disease, Wojcik observed, “We want to shape their daily regimen and their day. We want to make them remember. But that’s never going to happen.”

However, by using Feil’s and Verde’s techniques, caregivers, families and clergy can “minister with compassion and care and enhance the dignity of their days,” Wojcik said.

With the Memory Bridge approach, “really it’s not going back to the way they (the patients) were. We meet them where they are,” Koegler said. These methods offer “ways to reconnect and enrich the whole experience” of caring for those with memory loss, she said.

They said the techniques taught by Feil offer an opportunity to improve quality of life for a person with Alzheimer’s and his or her caregivers. They explained that the person with Alzheimer’s has an opportunity to capture a connection with others that the disease impairs and eventually severs. The caregiver is able to tune into the care receiver’s “world.”

Wojcik commented, “For us at Faith in Action, the spiritual piece is really important. Caring for the person with Alzheimer’s or dementia and their families is important. We’re going to help ministers minister to them.”

Koegler agreed, saying that the Memory Bridge approach “adds a rich level to the spiritual care for people.”

Even for people who have drifted away from organized religion, Wojcik said, “I think, as people, they look for that spiritual connection. I think they all go back for that in their lives. It’s something that brings meaning and peace. I think this program is going to help with that.”

Wojcik added, “It’s very unusual to bring professionals, families and clergy together … We’re bringing them together where they can create bonds and move beyond these three days and make a difference in our community.”

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Feil, who is now 81, has taught these techniques to more than 80,000 health care workers and family caregivers in the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and Africa. She has written numerous articles for professional publications and several books. She also has written 11 award-winning film scripts.

As a young social worker, Feil began developing her methods as a result of “her dissatisfaction with the ways people with dementia were being treated,” Wojcik said.

Feil’s father and mother were an administrator and a social worker, respectively, at a nursing home in the Cleveland area. “They lived in the nursing home,” Wojcik said. “She (Feil) has spent her whole life around old people.”

Verde is an author and holds a master’s degree in theology. Memory Bridge creates programs that connect people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias to family, friends and other people in their community.

The organization also creates programs that reveal the depths of memory that dementia does not erase.

Verde was instrumental in the development of an interview guide used by the Library of Congress Veterans’ History Project. He also developed and implemented an award-winning curriculum and school program called The Memory Bridge Initiative.

He produced a PBS documentary, “There is a Bridge,” and launched an art exhibit titled “Mapping Lives: The Art of Listening.”