Alzheimer’s Project Cares for Caregivers
Local Nonprofit Reaches Out to Support Unsung Heroes
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Respite is offered on a weekly basis on-site and can also be provided in home by a trained volunteer. “The faith community has been invaluable in providing this service,” said Wertman. “Across denominations and faiths, these organizations have all stepped up to make this possible.” In Tallahassee alone, respite rooms are offered weekly at Temple Israel, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and Killearn United Methodist.
Demand for respite care is growing. Wertman explained that each of the Tallahassee respite locations are operating at maximum capacity (18-20 clients) and Alzheimer’s Project would love to expand the service to locations on the south and west sides of Tallahassee. In addition, he receives a stream of requests from rural areas to open day-respite programs in some of the outlying counties: “In some of those counties, we’re the only service to which caregivers have access.”
In addition to respite care, Alzheimer’s Project provides services such as support groups and educational resources like training for caregivers. One of the most valuable support services they fund is the Project Lifesaver program, a reliable and proactive rescue program for persons with Alzheimer’s disease, related memory disorders, Down Syndrome and autism.
Electronic bracelets allow law enforcement officers to quickly locate a person who has wandered and safely return them home. “We have volunteers who work exclusively with this program,” said Wertman. “They meet with the family once per month, change the batteries in the bracelet and enter notes about the battery change in an online database.”
Ron Davis, who serves on the board of directors of Alzheimer’s Project, cares for his father, Rosser Davis, who has been diagnosed with mid-stage dementia.
“Alzheimer’s Project provides this monitoring device for Dad, which gives my wife and me the confidence that, if Dad wanders again when we’re traveling, we can easily and safely get him back home.”
Partially funded by the City of Tallahassee, the program receives significant direct contributions from the Pilot Club of Tallahassee, which helped to get Project Lifesaver started in Tallahassee.
Funding the Project
Alzheimer’s Project is committed to keeping all services free to caregivers, so fundraising is an ongoing mission. To provide a year of weekly respite care in one location costs Alzheimer’s Project $12,000. The nonprofit operates with an overhead of approximately 24 percent, said Wertman, “Because what we provide is actually human service, the direct human touch.”
Besides Wertman, there are five other staff members at Alzheimer’s Project, including a clinical director, two respite room coordinators, a volunteer manager and Office Manager Karen James. In addition, there are 147 volunteers across the 12 counties, including 65 volunteers devoted specifically to Leon County.
“One message that we would love to communicate to potential donors in the area is that local funds stay local to help local people,” said Wertman. “When you consider how many people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and related memory issues every day, chances are you know a caregiver — whether you know it or not.”
The annual Leading the Way Gala, scheduled for April 19, is one of the major fundraising events for Alzheimer’s Project. Approximately 300 attendees enjoy an enormous silent auction, dinner, award ceremony and live music with all funds directly benefiting Alzheimer’s Project Inc. Other events include a November Walk and the annual Parrothead Phrenzy, usually held in June or August.
For the past eight years, the local Tallahassee Parrothead Club has hosted the Phrenzy and donated all proceeds to Alzheimer’s Project. Ticket sales allow Jimmy Buffet fans to dance the night away for a good cause. “It was the brainchild of my mentor, Penny Weimer,” said Wertman. “And this year they raised a record-breaking $6,500!”
In addition to organized events, Wertman said he’s been humbled by the individuals and groups that walk in off the street and hand over checks to Alzheimer’s Project. The Tally Ho Bridge and Canasta club recently presented them with a check for $1,000 while a separate group organized by Padmini Lakshmin raised more than $1,500 for the agency. From the Holy Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church to the local NARFE (National Active and Retired Federal Employees) group, supporters of Alzheimer’s Project are as diverse as the community of Tallahassee itself.
Tallahassee’s Best-Kept Secret
One of Alzheimer’s Project’s greatest challenges, said Wertman, is letting people who need help know the agency exists for them as caregivers and what the organization provides locally through social outreach. “Too often caregivers get isolated and have so much on their plates that they don’t know where to turn or who to reach out to,” he said. He encourages anyone who knows a caregiver to share the message about the free support services provided by Alzheimer’s Project.
Also, sometimes Tallahassee’s homegrown Alz-heimer’s Project can be confused with the national Alzheimer’s Association. The latter group holds fundraising walks nationwide, including one locally, and focuses on advancing research, providing care and support and promoting brain health.
Tricia Culbertson is a fan; she now has a network of friends who understand her challenges, and they support one another. “The work [Alzheimer’s Project] does outside their walls is just as phenomenal as [respite care],” she said. “I had to sell my parents’ house to pay for my mother’s care. My friend from Alzheimer’s Project painted my mother’s house and has spent over 100 hours getting it in shape for sale.” She’s thoughtful as she goes on: “It’s very nice to find a group that says, ‘I’ll help you,’ and they mean it. You don’t find that everywhere.” Skyler Matchett contributed to this story.
Eight Warning Signs of Dementia
► Memory loss that disrupts daily life
► Repetition: stories, words, etc.
► Language problems: struggling to remember words, for instance
► Personality changes, such as sudden mood swings
► Disorientation and confusion: lost in familiar surroundings
► Lack of hygiene
► Odd behavior: placing objects in odd and inappropriate places
► Confusion with time or place
For more information, contact Alzheimer’s Project Inc. for confidential consultation: (850) 386-2778 or via their website at alzheimersproject.org/contactus.