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Local Alzheimer's Association offers respite care

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by Ann Bucy

SBJ Contributing Writer

Big changes have been happening at the southwest Missouri chapter of the Alzheimer's Association in Springfield.

Within the last six months, the association has moved to a bigger location, hired an education director and a new office coordinator, and established its respite care program.

"We moved to our new location, 2021 S. Waverly, Ste. 100, on Jan. 6, to meet the needs of the fast growth of our chapter," said Joyce Head, the associations' executive director. "We've increased our staff and have gone from having only two rooms at the old place, to three offices and a large work space for the volunteers, and a reception area."

Kathy Firl, the newly hired education director, began work at the association Jan. 4. "My job is to coordinate the respite care assistance program with Lea London, the chair of our patient, family and education services committee; work with London on maintaining our lending library; provide a speaker's bureau; and work as an advocate for those affected by the disease which affects the family and the caregiver."

Firl has been a nurse for 30 years and has worked in psychiatric nursing (including time devoted exclusively to geriatrics), home health, as a state surveyor for the Division of Aging, and as the director of a special care unit in long-term care.

So what is respite care? According to information from the association, it is a service that provides temporary caregivers to take over and give the primary caregiver some time off. Respite care allows the primary caregiver to take time to rest or do necessary activities, like grocery shopping or getting the car fixed.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, irreversible neurological disorder that causes memory loss, impaired judgment, disorientation, changes in personality, loss of language skills and difficulty in learning.

Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease is a 24-hour-a-day job that can drain a person, the association said. Feelings of depression, anger and frustration are common among those caring for people with Alzheimer's. Without relief, the caregiver's health can be affected.

The Springfield chapter of the Alzheimer's Association offers in-home services, licensed adult day-care services and short-term nursing home care.

Funding for the respite care program is provided by the Department of Social Services Division of Aging.

To qualify for the respite care program, the caregiver must live with the person with Alzheimer's, provide an initial letter from a doctor stating that the family member has Alzheimer's or a related disorder and that respite care is recommended, then contact the Alzheimer's Association at 886-2199 to apply.

In addition to the respite care program, the Alzheimer's Association offers support groups, library services including videos, books and pamphlets, family, community, and professional education and community-resource referral.

"I want us to become a resource for clinicians and physicians also," Firl said. "Landon's done such a good job on our relationship with home caregivers and nursing home staff. I want to expand the work we're doing. Also, I want to work with the national chapter. They have a brain bank that can assist us in educating the public about the need for granting autopsies for use in research on Alzheimer's disease."

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