What do you do when a loved one says he or she wants to go home — while sitting in his or her own living room?
The natural reaction for many people may be to point out that the person already is home, to state it as fact and back it up by saying something like, “Look around, this is your couch, that’s your TV, that’s a picture of our family hanging on the wall.”
But that’s not the right approach to take with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia, according to Matt Kudish, senior vice president of Caregiver Services at the Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter. That’s because there are two worlds, as they say at the association, and dementia patients live in a different one than the rest of us.
A better approach, Kudish says, is to try to get to the root of the problem. Why does the person not feel like he or she is at home? Is the feeling of safety and security lacking? If so, that’s what really should be addressed. You might take that picture on the wall, or an entire photo album, and talk to the sufferer of dementia about how these are people who love him or her — without quizzing the person about who’s who or anything like that. Trying to drag Alzheimer’s patients from their world into ours doesn’t work. Stimulating conversation and reminiscing, however, just might.
But of course people don’t innately know the right approach to take with an Alzheimer’s patient, and that’s where the Alzheimer’s Association comes in. Among its many services, it can teach caregivers new means of communication to improve the lives of patients, and their own.
“If you haven’t experienced the impact of this disease, it’s very difficult to understand,” Kudish said. “I don’t care who you are, no one can do this alone. And the beauty is you don’t have to do it alone, because the New York City chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is here to help, and all of our services are free of charge.”
By the end of the month, the Alzheimer’s Association expects to be offering those services at three new locations in Queens, its first in the borough, thanks to a $348,000 grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
The offices will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, though each will only be open on certain days, and the organization has not yet announced which. They all will be headed by care consultant Yungae Yook, who, in addition to being a licensed social worker and resident of Flushing, speaks Korean.
The three locations will be:
• Queens Community House, at 80-02 Kew Gardens Road in Kew Gardens;
• New York Hospital Queens Ambulatory Care Center, at 182-15/19 Horace Harding Expy. in Fresh Meadows; and
• NYHQ’s Bayside Primary Care, at 44-02 Francis Lewis Blvd. in Bayside.
If you need help, however, you don’t need to wait until those offices open their doors. The Alzheimer’s Assocation offers a 24-hour hotline at 1 (800) 272-3900. You can also ask for assistance by emailing the group at email@example.com. And there is a wealth of information available at alznyc.org.
Among the many services the Alzheimer’s Association provides are education about the disease, help developing a care plan, training programs for professional caregivers, and a 10-hour family caregiver workshop, the latter offered in Queens through a partnership with Sunnyside Community Services.
Before deciding exactly what services will be offered at the new locations in Queens, the Alzheimer’s Association will be conducting a needs assessment of the borough, Kudish said.
The organization very much looks forward to its expansion here, to help people with a disease that he noted impacts people “physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and financially.”
It is estimated that 500,000 city residents either suffer from dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is one form, or care for someone who does, according to the association.
“As the number of Alzheimer’s cases in New York City continues to grow, so does the need for our services — but we can only be of help to those who can access us,” association chapter President and CEO Lou-Ellen Barkan said in announcing the group’s expansion to Queens. “By providing in-borough support and programming, we hope to double the number of Queens residents we currently serve.