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Support for those caring for someone with Alzheimer's

This is not a club to join. No one needs to feel obligated to come every month. The regular monthly gathering of a local Alzheimer's support group exists so people can ask questions, share thoughts and learn more about navigating a life with a loved one who has Alzheimer's, Don Munsterman said.

"This is not something we expect people to come to every time," said Tino Harris.

But, "we want to build a group, a community of support where we can share month to month," Munsterman said.

Munsterman's wife Joann has Alzheimer's. She was formally diagnosed in 2010 but Munsterman had already begun to notice changes. Like when she couldn't give a known answer to a question.

When Munsterman and Neil Hofland were visiting their wives at a local nursing home the two men began talking about living with a wife with Alzheimer's. The two men along with Tamara Retzlaff started the local Alzheimer's support group.

The group is sponsored by the local Edward D. Jones financial office. Harris is an Edward D. Jones financial consultant. The company offers financial and related advice to those who attend the Alzheimer's support group. Harris said the company also provides any needed financial assistance for group meetings. The Edward D. Jones corporation has partnered with the Alzheimer's Association to educate the public about Alzheimer's and raise money for those with Alzheimer's.

Munsterman, Hofland and Retzlaff are trained facilitators. The statistics and their own experiences tell them there is a need for this local support group.

One in three seniors will die from Alzheimer's or another dementia. The Alzheimer's Association said 5.8 million people have Alzheimer's and the number will grow to 14 million by 2050.

More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care to people with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, the association said.

Providing care takes a toll.

Munsterman said the mortality rate for those caring for someone with Alzheimers or other dementia is 63% higher than those who don't. And of those who die, 43% die before the Alzheimer patient does.

"That statistic is scary but true," Munsterman said.

The toll on the caregiver's health comes as the "caregiver and patient become more isolated. You lose your friends and the social aspect," Munsterman said.

The Alzheimer's patient doesn't want social interaction because of the discomfort with the changes in their memory. The caregiver finds it difficult to leave the patient or take the patient on social outings.

Munsterman said he didn't want Joann to feel bad when people asked her questions she couldn't answer.

"They lose their functions one at a time," Munsterman said. "You watch an intelligent person go...to where they don't know what their hands are for..."

But there is help for the caregivers, Munsterman said. The support group can offer some of that help.

Harris said his role at support meetings is to answer questions about keeping track of financial records, understanding finances, insurance questions and related topics.

The group also works with Summer Anderson the community outreach coordinator at Stevens Community Medical Center. Harris and Munsterman said one of Anderson's key roles is to make sure health care providers are reminded about the support group so they can inform patients and caregivers.

Munsterman encouraged caregivers to come to the support group meeting because he knows firsthand how important it was to talk to someone else and get answers to some questions.

The Alzheimer's support group meets the second Monday of each month at 5:30 p.m. at the Morris Public Library.