Cedars staffers get pointers for relating to dementia sufferers

Published 9:09 am Friday, March 30, 2012

“I came home a different person.”

“It’s my favorite conference.”

“It’s the most inspiring day I have all year.”

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Cedars of Austin staff members had unexpected reactions after attending the Meeting of the Minds Conference in St. Paul, especially considering it pulled them out of their beds in Austin at 5 a.m.

The annual Meeting of the Minds Dementia Conference took place on Saturday, March 17. The event is the premier conference for those providing services or caring for persons with dementia, professionals in related fields, and those who have been affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The conference is a joint effort of the Mayo Clinic and the Minnesota-North Dakota Alzheimer’s Association.

The Cedars of Austin staff attended the conference because it recently added another Memory Care Neighborhood to its community to better serve the increasing number of people effected by Alzheimer’s and dementia. Currently, 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and at least 800,000 of them are living alone, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Cedars Executive Director Jerry Guyette attended the event, along with Director of Marketing Tara Brunsvold, LPN Diane Maxwell, Community Nurse Deb Brehmer and Wellness/ Recreation Director and Memory Care Consultant Cathy Ehley. The group attended a number of different “breakout sessions,” with subjects including caregiver fatigue, early onset dementia, and the legal and ethical issues that may arise when dementia is diagnosed. A number of professionals spoke, including Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. There were also people who cared for loved ones suffering from dementia in attendance, and even individuals who had been diagnosed with the disease.

“We are fortunate to have staff who not only go above and beyond by taking time out of their weekend to attend a work conference, but actually look forward to doing so,” said Ashley Farr. “It makes them better at serving our residents and their families.” The Farr family, owners of The Cedars, has been personally touched by dementia, she added.

The Cedars employees agreed that they benefited both personally and professionally from the conference. They learned how to better understand and support the families of Cedars residents who have dementia or Alzheimer’s, and how to better relate to and understand those residents. They discovered new ways to make the transition of moving to The Cedars as smooth and easy as possible for both residents and their caregivers. Last year there were 241,112 people caring for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia in Minnesota alone. They provided more than 274 million hours of unpaid care, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Although the staff said the personal benefits were numerous, the conference reminded them of the importance of living in the moment.

“Not only is it the most effective way to communicate with and relate to someone suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, but often allows everyone, regardless of age or health, to live the most meaningful and joyful life possible,” Farr said.

“The five employees that attended the Meeting of the Minds conference certainly passed that message on to the rest of us here at The Cedars.”