By: Randy Heiss, Executive Director
On June 10th, I attended the second annual Region VI Conference on Aging, held at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Bisbee. The conference was the product of the ever-expanding partnership between The Desert Southwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and the SouthEastern Arizona Governments Organization (SEAGO) Area Agency on Aging (AAA). I had been invited to give a presentation about the many programs and services offered by our agency, and found approximately sixty individuals with an interest in aging issues from Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Santa Cruz, and Pima counties in attendance.
I arrived an hour or two before I was scheduled to give my presentation, and soon found myself intrigued with the information being presented by Terri Waldman, Director of Geropsych at Tucson Medical Center, about engaging a person with Alzheimer’s disease. The presentation was targeted at educating caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients about the importance of connecting core values of the patient with daily activities, and how doing so can reduce patients’ stress and confusion, while supporting self-esteem, worth, identity, and dignity. In observing the individuals in the audience, it was evident they were listening to every word and were thoroughly immersed in the information being presented.
Following the lunch break, Morgen Hartford, Program Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association, Desert Southwest Chapter, gave an interactive presentation about caring for the caregiver. Being the caregiver of a person suffering from dementia or other chronic ailments 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, and 365 days per year can be incredibly stressful and have a deleterious effect on a person’s mental and physical well-being over time, including diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure and severe depression. The presentation helped participants learn how to recognize the signs of caregiver stress, and the importance of getting support, nurturing and nourishing oneself, and arranging for respite care in order to do so.
Later in the afternoon, I found myself marveling at how incredibly unprepared I am in the event either my wife or I were to become incapacitated and need to be placed in a long term care facility. The presentation by Paul Bartlett, Elder Law Attorney and President of the Alzheimer’s Association, Desert Southwest Chapter provided information on Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS) services, eligibility requirements, income criteria, general guidance and strategies on how to maximize ALTCS benefits.
All of the presentations were engaging and content-rich, and based on conference evaluation forms collected from participants, apparently, I am not bias in making that assessment. Eighty-three percent (83%) of those completing the evaluation form indicated they either agreed or strongly agreed that the presenters were knowledgeable, kept the interest of the audience, and all their questions were answered. Unfortunately, conference attendance was relatively light considering there was no cost to attend and AAA staff had made significant efforts to publicize the event.
Fortunately, those who missed this year’s conference will have another chance. The third annual Region VI Conference on Aging will be held next year at about this same time. So while a great opportunity to learn, network and enrich their understanding of issues related to aging may have been missed by many this year, the opportunity is not forever lost.