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When families of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients meet with Jean Holmquist at Home Instead Senior Care, they don’t share much with Holmquist that she hasn’t experienced. She lost her mother to Alzheimer’s disease, and she knows what it can do to a family.

It’s why she partnered with her husband and daughter last year and opened Home Instead Senior Care at 19 36th St. W., Suite 3, in Billings. And it’s why she’s offering free training for families of people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

“My heart is for the family caregivers,” Holmquist said. “I want them to know there is help and there is support out there for them.”

Home Instead Senior Care is part of a nationwide network of locally-owned franchise offices that provide non-medical, in-home care to seniors. The assistance they provide ranges from companionship and light housekeeping to more intensive personal care and hygiene. Their clients include Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in eight older Americans — some 5.2 million people — suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

The Home Instead Senior Care network developed the Alzheimer’s or Other and Dementias CARE program. CARE stands for Changing Aging Through Research and Education, and the program is based on the latest research. It provides an in-depth look at Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and gives caregivers practical tools to manage difficult behaviors and keep their loved ones engaged and safe.

For now, the training is only being provided to the staff of caregivers at Home Instead Senior Care, but it will be available free of charge for families of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients this fall. Holmquist is certified through the organization to teach the course, which is delivered in several sessions lasting a total of eight hours.

“I would have appreciated having this kind of information when we were going through that process,” Holmquist said.

Most Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are cared for at home by a family member, usually a spouse or son or daughter. For Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, the familiarity of home is calming even if it seems as though they don’t recognize their surroundings, Holmquist said.

Holmquist’s father was his wife’s primary caregiver. She lived nine hours away and provided respite for him when he needed a break. She would stay with her mom for a week at a time several times a year.

People suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia experience more than just memory loss. They often experience erratic mood swings and can become confrontational or withdraw from family and loved ones. Efforts by caregivers to redirect them are often met with resistance.

“That’s because they have a different reality than ours,” Holmquist said.

Many Alzheimer’s and dementia patients will wander if left unattended, or attempt tasks — like cooking and driving — that they cannot accomplish. Their family caregivers are always on alert, never leaving them alone for even a minute. As a result, primary caregivers never sleep soundly, and can suffer from physical as well as psychological exhaustion.

“I’ve been there, and I can say you need to take a break,” Holmquist said. “If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of someone else.”

That’s where Home Instead Senior Care, a similar organization, or another family member can make a difference.

“We come in and take some of those tasks off their shoulders and provide relief. Even an hour and a half a day or a week can help,” Holmquist said.

In addition to the practical advice, the Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias CARE program offers ways families can draw out and record long-term memories. Sometimes music or photographs will stir a deeply buried memory, Holmquist said.

“Long-term memories are the last to go, and we want to record them and use them to make connections,” she said.

The Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias CARE program is also offered free online at www.helpforalzheimersfamilies.com. The e-learning course provides flexibility for families who might not be able to attend the course she offers. However, Holmquist said the face-to-face format provides social support and collaboration that families won’t find online.

“Just knowing that someone else is walking the same path as you are is important,” Holmquist said.

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