QUEENSBURY — Valarie Drown’s grandfather took care of her grandmother through her six-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease back in the 1980s.
Her grandmother Isabelle would scream, “Get that man away from me. Who is this man? I don’t know who this man is.”
Her grandfather would stand there with his hands over his ears, begging her to stop.
“I don’t know how he ever survived it,” said Drown, who was only 13 at the time. “I can only say ‘true strength’ to be able to go through that journey.”
That experience led Drown to her current position as the project coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Support Initiative, which provides free support services to those caring for people with dementia and other memory disorders. The group just opened a satellite office in Queensbury to better serve the caregivers of Warren, Washington and Hamilton counties.
Drown said services like this were not available to her grandfather back in the 1980s.
“What we are blessed with now is the services that we can provide to caregivers so that they aren’t alone, they aren’t on that journey. They can call somebody and say, ‘What can I do when she keeps yelling at me that she doesn’t know who I am. What do I do?’”
November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. The journey of Alzheimer’s Disease is often more difficult for the family members who are burdened with the 24-hour-a-day task of caring for a loved one who no longer recognizes them.
The new centralized office, located at 357 Bay Road, gives families easier access to much-needed services like care consultations, education, support groups, respite care and the Memory Café, which brings together caregivers and care receivers for social activities.
People with dementia often don’t want to go out in public, said Stacey Barcomb, a care navigator.
“So when you come to a Memory Café, it’s OK if you need a few minutes to collect your thoughts or gather your words, because it’s nothing new to us,” Barcomb said. “And everybody’s in the same boat.”
The Caregiver Support Initiative is in year three of a five-year $7.5 million grant from the state Department of Health. Anyone can obtain services, regardless of financial need, diagnosis or insurance.
The goal is to reduce caregivers’ financial, emotional and physical distress and improve the caregiver’s overall health and quality of life. Sometimes, the burden of caring for a loved one with dementia leads to the caregiver dying before the patient.
“Caregivers are selfless,” Drown said, “so they take care of their loved one and they don’t have time even to go to their own doctors’ appointments or exercise.”
For these people, the initiative can arrange in-home respite and social day programs.
“The burden is just so great. You start caring for someone 24 hours a day, there is no break,” Drown said. “So programs like this and other programs throughout the county, it’s exactly what the caregivers need, just to have someone who understands them and get support.”