Community organizations working to help people with dementia and caregivers during pandemic

Published: Jan. 5, 2021 at 4:18 PM CST
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FOX VALLEY, Wis. (WBAY) - Many people have dealt with social isolation over the course of this pandemic. But for people with dementia, that isolation can have a serious impact.

“They’re candidly declining faster than they normally would,” said Fox Valley Memory Project Executive Director Mike Rohrkaste.

Rohrkaste says that’s because of a lack of social interaction.

“It’s very important that they stay socially engaged and that means having, basically human interaction, discussion and that’s been very challenging during the pandemic for families,” said Rohrkaste.

The Fox Valley Memory Project (FVMP) trains area businesses and groups on how to be “dementia friendly” and assists people with dementia and their caregivers through socially-interactive programs, many of which are now virtual.

“We’ve learned that people living with memory loss can connect, they can,” said Rohrkaste. “Sometimes on their own, sometimes they do need help from a caregiver, but we have learned how to overcome some of those technology barriers, so that’s a positive.”

For those who don’t have access for online events, the FVMP can help.

“We’ve received some very generous grants, we have iPads available, we have wifi connections available, and we can provide these at no cost,” said Rohrkaste.

Winnebago County ADRC Dementia Care Specialist Rebecca Groleau says it’s important to keep engaged.

“A lot of research has shown that getting out, socializing - and, you know, just getting out is a little bit of exercise, too for the person - so both of those things are shown to kind of help in, not improve maybe the memory, but kind of help with the decline. Maybe not see that decline as quickly,” said Groleau. “From what I’ve been hearing from a lot of the caregivers, since they aren’t going out and getting to those programs, they have seen a quicker decline.”

The ADRC has also moved some of its dementia programming and caregiver support groups online.

Groleau says her caregiver support group has been getting a lot of participation, with many reaching out who have loved ones in care facilities they are unable to visit.

But, partially for those with advanced dementia, Groleau says virtual doesn’t always work well, so some caregivers are getting creative.

“A great game that one of our participants does with her husband is a pool noodle that she’s cut in half, and they blow up a balloon, and they bat that back and forth,” said Gorleau.

Groleau also suggests web searching “fun dementia at home games” which can lead people to things like sticker books, fidget tools, and other activities to keep them engaged.

Whether it’s getting creative at home, or joining online programming, both Rohrkaste and Groleau encourage people to reach out for support.

“There are things that are out there to try to get that engagement and keep that socialization going,” said Groleau.

To lean more about FVMP, visit its website or Facebook page.

To access ADRC program information, contact your local ADRC. CLICK HERE to discover an ADRC near you.

Winnebago Co. ADRC’s dementia resources can be found here.

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