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Seminar solidifies ground for those with memory loss

POULSBO — Alzheimer’s disease started simply enough for Bob Payne.

Pushing 80, he was beginning to forget things more and more.

His wife Grace, 63, said she figured that memory loss was just a part of getting older, but the couple decided to attend a free workshop on memory loss at Martha & Mary Nursing Facility last year.

The four-year Poulsbo residents’ eyes were opened at the event to the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease. They both had MRIs last December and learned that Bob had early stage Alzheimer’s.

“It was a big shock but at the same time, we are very thankful that we took precautions,” Grace Payne said.

The fact is, Alzheimer’s disease can really sneak up on you, Martha & Mary Alzheimer’s support group facilitator Lora Lehner said.

Though no one can claim immunity from moments of forgetfulness, a greater frequency of episodes of confusion can signal the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The National Alzheimer’s Association estimates the progressive, debilitating neurological disorder affects more than 4.5 million Americans.

Lehner describes the episodes that often precede a diagnosis with the simple and unmistakable event of forgetting where you put your keys.

“Now, imagine you find your keys but you can’t remember what they’re for,” she explained.

Though research is ongoing, Alzheimer’s disease has been studied by scientists for nearly 100 years yet still has no cure. What’s worse, a person can be told they have Alzheimer’s while they’re still highly functional.

“Alzheimer’s can be a pretty devastating diagnosis but as with any diagnosis it’s best they get as much information about how to help themselves and their family cope,” Lehner said.

And there is help. Beginning Sept. 15, the free, 10-week course the Paynes attended will once again be offered at Martha & Mary. The seminar focuses on life skills for individuals living with mild memory loss due to Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association of Western and Central Washington has been holding such classes in Poulsbo annually for the last 12 years. This year’s workshop is supported by Martha & Mary, Ashley Garden/Marine Court Assisted Living, Group Health Cooperative, Emeritus Oaks Assisted Living and the Caregiver Support Center of the Kitsap County Aging and Long-term Care Service.

The course is mainly intended to be a resource for those living with Alzheimer’s who are still in the early stages. Attendees are invited to bring a family member and concurrent groups meet during the sessions. Each week brings a new topic of discussion from self esteem, changes in family and social relationships and new research and treatments to elder law and the importance of financial planning.

“There really isn’t much out there for people who are living at home and are really high functioning,” said Patricia Hunter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “They’re still able to read and learn and function and this gives them opportunities to meet other people.”

Grace Payne said she is thankful every day for having taken part in the workshops. Besides finding out about her husband’s Alzheimer’s through the course, she said the medical advice helped get him into therapy that has slowed the progression of his disease and the legal experts gave them ways to easily get their affairs in order.

“I would encourage anyone who has memory problems or who just isn’t sure what’s going on to go to the seminar,” she said.

Besides legal and medical information, Lehner said past participants praise the program for its ability to bring people together. A group of Alzheimer’s Association program graduates has been meeting once a month for the last two years in a support group-type setting because of the bonds they made during the course.

“They can become really bonded in the 10 weeks and not want to say good-bye,” Lehner said. “We’ve had people from all the groups ask, ‘What are we going to do when this is over?’ So we came up with this group.”

“People don’t want it to end,” Hunter added. “They’ve found this lost tribe of people who are like them. It’s really a hidden disease and there’s a lot of misinformation about the disease, so when people find other people who are struggling with similar issues, they really bond with those people.”

“We can talk without worrying because everybody is pretty much in the same boat,” Payne said. “These people feel comfortable with each other because what comes out in that group stays there.”

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