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Mindful March: Awareness and Resources for Memory Impairment

Doctor holding up memory impairment test

March marks new beginnings, longer days and the start of spring, but it’s also a time to highlight the prevalence of brain injuries and cognitive impairment and the resources available for people who are coping with mental decline.

Brain Injury Awareness Month

The Brain Injury Association of America leads the nation in observing Brain Injury Awareness Month. This year’s “Change Your Mind” campaign aims to de-stigmatize brain injuries through education and outreach, empower those who have survived brain injury and their caregivers, and promote the many types of support that are available to people living with a brain injury.

Western North Carolina Healthy Brain Initiative

Several local and regional care partners have been working together to make a difference in the lives of patients and families who are struggling to cope with the journey of memory loss and brain function decline.

Together, they formed the Western North Carolina Healthy Brain Initiative to educate the community on brain wellness and provide information on community resources for healthy aging.

Funded through the Blue Ridge HealthCare Foundation, the committee is made up of family caregivers and care partners from Grace Ridge Retirement Community, Burke Senior Center, Catawba Regional Hospice, Burke Hospice & Palliative Care, ADAPT (Alzheimer Dementia Adult Professional Team), Supportive Solutions and Blue Ridge Community Action.

Caregiver Emergency Packet (CEP)

Most recently, the committee created caregiver emergency packets that will serve as a visual cue for emergency personnel to let them know a resident has a cognitive impairment. The packet will operate like the Do Not Resuscitate or Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment forms used to notify emergency personnel of end-of-life wishes.

“The responding emergency personnel will go to the front or side of the refrigerator and retrieve the Caregiver Emergency Packet (CEP) previously filled out by the emergency caregiver,” said Charity Elliott, committee chair and life enrichment social worker at Grace Ridge.

Emergency responders will contact the caregiver or alternate contact to come to the home so the person with dementia is not left alone or let them know the person must be taken out of the home, Elliott said. Training on how to use the CEPs will start soon in Burke and Catawba counties with rollout completed within the next six months.

Memory Café: A Special Place for Caregivers and their Loved Ones

One successful element of the Western NC Healthy Brain Initiative is Memory Café, a monthly support group held the third Thursday of the month from 3-4 p.m. in Table Rock Lounge.

“Our Memory Café stands out from others because we have guest speakers who are scheduled monthly for our caregivers,” Elliott said. “At the same time, we offer one-on-one interactions from trained volunteers who offer activities and support for memory loss participants. The activities are centered around reminiscing, aromatherapy, physical exercise, Ageless Grace, music and crafts.”

Elliott notes the feedback has been very positive from both caregivers and those with memory loss. “Participants have found the speakers to be very helpful on their very difficult journey,” she said. “They also support each other with helpful suggestions about experiences they have been through themselves or books they have read that have been beneficial.”

Memory Café speakers, topics and resources include:

Save the Date: Dementia Support and Education Event

Anyone in the community who has a memory-impaired loved one, or professionals who are looking for continuing education, are invited to attend a free Caregiver Education and Resource Summit that will provide dementia support for families and professional caregivers.

The summit will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 21, in the Ervin Community Room at Grace Ridge. It is being held in partnership with the Western NC Healthy Brain Initiative, Catawba Regional Hospice, Life Transitions and Alzheimer’s Association. Registration details will be posted soon on the Grace Ridge website Events page and Facebook page.

Elliott encourages people to like and follow the Western NC Healthy Brain Initiative Facebook page, which offers tips, resources and Memory Café support group information. For more information, contact Charity Elliott at 828-580-8327 or charity.elliott@blueridgehealth.org.