ONTARIO -- Cathy Rox said her father, Martin Weaver, was one of her best friends.
"A lot of the reason I am the person I am today is because of my father," she said.
Due to Lewy body dementia, Weaver's memory began to deteriorate and he was unable to recognize his own kin, including his daughter.
"That was a hard part for me," said Rox, who helped care for her father until his passing.
Rox, the administrator at Liberty Nursing Center, shared her personal story as a caregiver to a crowd of several Richland County leaders during this week's launch of a new coalition aimed at addressing the needs of families affected by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The meeting took place at the Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging's office in Ontario.
"As you think of people with dementia, please always remember that they're individuals," she said. "They're humans who have loved, who have lived just like you and I have."
Creating a culture in Richland County that is more aware and accepting of those with dementia is one of the main objectives of the Dementia Friendly Coalition.
The Alzheimer’s Association’s Northwest Ohio Chapter is facilitating the creation of this countywide project, made possible through a grant from the Richland County Foundation. Grant funds enable the association to hire a part-time employee to help move the Dementia Friendly Coalition forward.
"A dementia-friendly community is a place where those with dementia, their families and caregivers are understood, supported and able to actively function as part of the community," said Tessa Clark, program coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Northwest Ohio Chapter.
As Richland County's population continues to age, its risk for dementia and Alzheimer's disease increases.
There are 81 different types of dementia, with Alzheimer's being the most common.
According to data released in the Alzheimer's Association’s "2018 Alzheimer’s disease Facts and Figures," Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in both Ohio and the United States.
In Richland County, dementia was the fourth leading cause of death in 2017, according to vital statistics compiled by Richland Public Health.
"Alzheimer's is an epidemic in this country," said Julia Faulkner Pechlivanos, executive director for the Alzheimer's Association's Northwest Ohio Chapter.
According to the association's facts and figures report, there are approximately 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer's. By 2050, this number is projected to increase to nearly 14 million.
The disease kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. It also causes drastic financial consequences.
"The federal government spends $20 million every hour on caring for people with Alzheimer's, which is just staggering," Pechlivanos said.
In 2018, Alzheimer's and other dementias will cost the nation $277 billion, the facts and figures report states. That figure does not account for the costs of unpaid caregiving by family and friends, who often experience health and financial challenges of their own because of care responsibilities.
Jeff DeVito, general manager of Milliron Industries, has seen firsthand how caregiving affects people in the workforce.
He said the company keeps track of attendance, making note of any odd patterns. For instance, he noticed that one employee had used up all of his vacation time by fall and missed an extra day.
"This was odd, because this was an employee that did not miss work," DeVito said.
In speaking with the employee, DeVito learned he was absent because he had to take his father to the doctor.
"What I've found out is we have a growing number of employees, for one reason or another, that are caring for their spouses (and other family members)," he said.
He read some statistics from the National Center on Caregiving, which reports that about 17 percent of full-time workers in the United States are caregivers.
"That means out of my 100 employees, 17 of them are taking care of other people in some way," he said. "It might be a little bit; it might be a lot."
DeVito understands the strain caregiving can place on a person. His mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about 15 years ago.
"I look at my father-in-law, Grant. He could take a leave of absence. A fellow in my production, though, doing sorting that's making $14 an hour, he can't probably take a leave of absence very easy," he said.
Upon noticing any odd attendance trends, he said, "One of the things we do is try to assess what kind of time they need, what's their situation."
The company also encourages the employee to fill out Family and Medical Leave Act paperwork. FMLA is a federal law that guarantees certain employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave each year with no threat of job loss.
DeVito realizes that he may not have all the answers, but as a former member of the Area Agency on Aging Foundation Board, he knows of resources that can help.
"I don't have to know the answers," he said. "I just need to tell them where to go."
Jalane Miller, retired public relations director for Snyder Funeral Homes and former case manager at the Area Agency on Aging, knows how critical time off work can be with a relative who's ill.
"Every hour is precious," she said.
She helped care for her mother who had Alzheimer's and lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Story after story, everyone in the room on Monday seemed to be or know of someone who's been affected by dementia.
"The need to physically and socially prepare our communities for an older population and to understand issues affecting the elderly has never been greater," Clark said.
She said there's no "cookie-cutter" approach to the Dementia Friendly Coalition, but that it must have community ownership and be designed to fit the specific community's needs in order for it to be successful.
The coalition could work toward providing:
- Free business/agency consultations
- Comprehensive community programs that include education tailored to specific local businesses
- Ideas for communities and local governments to make buildings and spaces more dementia-friendly
- Dementia-friendly tool kits for local governments, community organizations, sporting and social clubs
- Public appearances to demonstrate to community members at large how they can implement the dementia-friendly concept
- A county-wide awareness campaign
For more information on how to get involved in this cause, call the association at 419-522-5050 or email Tessa Clark, program coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Cindy Jakubick, development and outreach coordinator, at email@example.com.
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