Alzheimers afflicts more than patients

Mark Schuster

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease can be an isolating and emotionally draining task, but area groups are offering support.

The Southwest Missouri chapter of the National Alzheimer’s Association covers 29 counties and contains more than 30 support groups, 10 of which are in the Joplin area.

Mary Ann Soerries, director of pastoral care/pallative care at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, who helped found one of the first Alzheimer’s support groups in the region in 1984, said the groups are a safe place where caregivers can come and receive practical information.

“At a person’s first meeting, we encourage them to take care of all the legal things, like house titles and power of attorney, so that when their person becomes incapacitated, they can legally make the decisions for that person,” Soerries said.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease that gradually “erases” a person’s mind, and Soerries said one of the most difficult things for a caregiver is to see someone who has been a part of their life for years, maybe decades, gradually slip away.

“Eventually, the afflicted won’t even know who the caregiver is, even if they have been married for 50 years,” she said.

Sherry Cole, Joplin regional manager of the Southwest Missouri Chapter, said the groups “are different things for different people.”

“People may come to a group to gain a better understanding of the disease, because they are in crisis or because they have specific care-giving struggles,” Cole said. “They may be looking for advice on a particular subject or just want to be with people who are having similar experiences.”

Soerries said one of the greatest things a person can take from the group is the knowledge that, even though they may feel isolated from the rest of the world, they are not alone.

“Somebody else in the group has been there, or is there now,” she said.

“I can almost see the ‘aha’ in people’s faces as they sit there and start talking, and heads start nodding around the room, and they know the others understand; they get it.”

The St. John’s group, which is facilitated by Soerries, meets at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month in the St. John’s Conference Center.

For more information, contact Soerries at 625-2470.