Nonprofit Expert on Alzheimer’s Reveals Unique Approaches to Care

by | Apr 5, 2024 | Featured Nonprofits

Sam’s mother helped him blow out the candles on his birthday cake. He just turned 33 years old and was diagnosed with a form of dementia two years ago. Sam laughed and clapped his hands as his friends sang him the birthday song.

Alma danced an Irish jig to lively music on a sunny afternoon with her friends. She has loved to dance all her 83 years. No one in her family had ever been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But she has had it now for five years.

In addition to living with a dementia diagnosis, Sam and Alma have one wonderful thing in common—they both attend Friendship Center, the only adult day care center in the Santa Barbara area.

“We make sure everyone has a good time here,” said Kathryn Westland, Executive Director of Friendship Center. “While individuals experiencing dementia spend the day with us, their caregivers have a chance to do errands and other activities, knowing their loved ones are safe and enjoying their day.”

Westland’s educational and research pursuits have taken her far and wide, including obtaining her undergraduate degree from University of St Andrews, Scotland and her master’s degree in public health from the University of Sydney, Australia. Her years serving the Alzheimer’s Association gave her a high level of understanding about all aspects of dementia.

Confusion about causes of dementia are common.

“There are many misconceptions about what causes dementia,” Westland said. “You can live a super healthy life by eating well and exercising and you can still get it.

“Many people think the disease is passed down genetically. Yet, inheriting a deterministic gene that will cause Alzheimer’s is estimated to account for 1% or less of all Alzheimer’s cases.

“Even if no one in your family that has had Alzheimer’s you can still get it. It turns out that the number one risk factor for this disease is having a brain and being over 65 years old. So, it’s no wonder people are confused about what they can do to avoid getting this dreaded disorder.

“Of course, unhealthy lifestyles can increase one’s chances of contracting Alzheimer’s, but the main risk is age. So, every year after age 65 our risk increases.

“Many people are confused about the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s and other diseases with similar symptoms. There are main forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s being one.

“Dementia is a collection of symptoms that are severe enough to impact daily life. It is not normal aging. Just because you’re forgetting names and dates as you age doesn’t mean you have dementia. This type of forgetfulness is like rummaging through a purse with a lot of stuff in it to find a tube of lipstick.

“Dementia is not normal, it is abnormal. It is not uncommon, but it is not normal. At this time, we don’t know why some people get dementia. Certain ethnic and socio-economic groups are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than others, but heredity does not play a significant role in determining whether someone gets the disease.

“One in five people in California will develop a form of dementia including Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body dementia, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s, frontotemporal dementia or Huntington’s disease.

“Two-thirds of Americans living with dementia are women. Sixty percent of caregivers for dementia are women, one-third are daughters. Eighty-three percent of the help provided to older adults in the U.S. comes from family, friends or other unpaid caregivers.

“Experts suggest people keep track of changes in themselves and their loved ones. Keep a journal. Look for patterns. For example, changes in mood, behavior, degree and frequency of forgetfulness are important. Identifying triggers that can bring on behaviors that might not seem normal like inappropriate anger and other misaligned emotions.”

Santa Barbara County offers many resources for dementia care.

Someone with a family member or friend who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia has several choices for care throughout Santa Barbara County. Of course, some are more expensive than others. A partial list of choices includes:

>>Memory care facilities: Oak Cottage, Villa Alamar, Maravilla, Vista del Monte, Valle Verde, Merrill Gardens, Heritage House, Gran Vida, Wood Glen and Mission Villa.

>>Board and care facilities: usually with an average of eight adults

>>In-home care

Friendship Center offers a unique approach as the only adult day care service in Santa Barbara. They offer such services as a secured center where adults can safely and enjoyably spend their days without worry and their caregivers, who are often family members, can carry on with their careers, errands and other life commitments. There is something for everyone at a reasonable price.

Many individuals with a form of dementia don’t want to move into a residential facility. They want to continue living with their families, even if cost is not a factor. Friendship Center can be that bridge.

Since its founding in 1976, its focus has always been only on serving individuals with dementia through different trends of care, medication treatments and approaches. They offer recreational therapy through dance, music, physical, emotional, cognitive and social activities designed to focus on the abilities rather than what has changed.

It is a safe place to be forgetful and for attendees to express their interests and spend their day the way they want. Whether the person was a rocket scientist or never worked a day in their life, Friendship Center offers an opportunity to be around people and enjoy life.

Research shows that if we’re not listening to words or moving our body, our world shrinks. Friendship Center knows that dementia affects the entire family, not just the one with the disease, so they offer services for everyone.