Alzheimers caregiversBy Helen Altonn
gather for Moonlight
Janet Bender describes the frustration and grief families go through when loved ones have Alzheimer's disease: "It's kind of like a long goodbye."
Bender is executive director of the Honolulu Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association -- "a shoulder" for those seeking help.
The association has a branch on Maui that serves Molokai and Lanai, a West Hawaii chapter and a grass-roots group on Kauai.
"We've got a great team of people on board," Bender said. "They are compassionate and really respect the dignity of each of these individuals. Where their mind might be on a different journey, there is still the sacredness of the person."
About 17,000 islanders have Alzheimer's or a related disease, Bender said. Of those, 14,000 are on Oahu.
"It's a horrible disease, something that's not curable," says Joyce Herminau, whose 77-year-old mother has had Alzheimer's for five years.
She said she and her sister have had to watch their mother, "our best friend ... not become that person any more, to be somebody totally different."
Herminau will accept a certificate on behalf of all caregivers of Alzheimer's victims at the association's annual fund-raising dinner tomorrow night.
"Moonlight and Magic at the Mardi Gras," from 6-10 p.m. at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, will do substantially more than entertain those attending.
It will help support the association's many activities, including a 24-hour telephone help line, office and home visits, a lending library, neighborhood support groups, monthly newsletter and a wanderers' registry.
Alzheimer's disease victims who wander off and are registered with the Safe Return Program usually are found within a few hours after police are notified, Bender said. Forms to register may be obtained from the chapter office.
The chapter, one of 200 across the nation, holds workshops for caregivers and education and training events for health care providers.
Requests for information and help have more than doubled in the past few years as people have become more aware of the disease and the association, Bender said.
"We want people to know there is a place they can come -- that they don't have to do this alone."
Researchers, meanwhile, are trying to get some understanding and control of the disease, says Dr. Kamal Masaki, University of Hawaii professor of medicine and geriatrics specialist at Kuakini Medical Center.
She said research is going in two directions -- looking into causes of the disease to try to prevent it, and investigating treatments.
Two drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration for Alzheimer's have "shown some moderate, but not great, results," she said.
"Unfortunately, neither of the medications reverse the pathology in the brain that causes Alzheimer's disease."
Where to find helpCall these numbers for information and help with Alzheimer's disease patients:
The Honolulu chapter, Alzheimer's Association, 1050 Ala Moana Building, 591-2771.
Help Line, 591-0090.
To report a wandering Alzheimer's victim registered with the Safe Return Program, 1-800-572-1122.