• 63°

Local Alzheimer’s support group begins 31st year

The Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Caregiver Support group, in conjunction with the University of Mississippi Department of Social Work and Brookdale Oxford, will commemorate its 31st year of monthly meetings Monday at Brookdale Senior Living in Oxford.

The meeting will run from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

The beginning

Jo Ann O’Quin, UM professor emerita of social work, was the founding member of the caregiver support group. Early in her career as a budding gerontologist, O’Quin was advised to learn as much as possible about a neurological disease named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer. As a community service project with an Ole Miss graduate student in her Psychosocial Aspects of Aging course, O’Quin held a communitywide educational meeting at the public library in Oxford.

“In that meeting in December 1985, I couldn’t believe the turnout we had because at that time few people had heard about this disease,” O’Quin said. “Due to the astonishing number of caregivers in attendance, I asked if they would like to meet again. The response was a resounding ‘Yes.’

“I started the support group February 1986, and we’ve been holding monthly meetings ever since.”

Caregivers that have been part of the group may have changed, but the issues and the voracity of the illnesses have not, O’Quin said.

“Today, we know more about these irreversible brain disorders and that Alzheimer’s is the most common of the dementia-related illnesses,” she said. “Luckily, there is no longer such a stigma associated with these disorders. Now we can talk about dementia-related illnesses, and these meetings provide a forum for caregivers to converse with someone else who is dealing with those same problems.”

These support group meetings routinely meet at 7 p.m. the first Monday of each month at Brookdale Oxford. The support group provides an avenue for caregivers to exchange ideas and learn more about the disorders, techniques of behavioral treatment and methods of symptom management.

Several resources

The support group offers a multitude of resources in managing the health of people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia-related diseases. Unfortunately, while the methods and management of the disorders have changed for the better, no cure is available for those suffering from the disorder.

“I look back on the differences these past 30 years and am so thankful we now have more resources than the often-used guidebook, ‘The 36-Hour Day,’ which we still recommend,” O’Quin said.

“In our area, in addition to nursing homes, we now have a Caregiver Resource Center and Memory Makers day respite program, assisted living retirement homes, the State Veteran’s home, home care services and hospice services that all provide additional help for memory care for individuals and their caregivers.”

Guest speaker

Monday’s meeting that starts the 31st year as a support group will feature Scott Wilks, gerontology certificate program coordinator and associate professor of social work at LSU, who will discuss “Grief, Guilt, and Bereavement: Now and Later,” and host a question-and-answer session.

O’Quin said she wants the meetings to be as comfortable as possible for the caregivers to come and express their daily struggles.

“My true hope is that I can one day say that we no longer need this type of support group, but until we find a cause and cure, we are here to provide education, resources and understanding,” O’Quin said. “And I make sure we have plenty of refreshments and tissues, and most importantly for caregivers to find a way to leave smiling.”