The Orange County Department on Aging and the Project EngAGE Mental Wellness Senior Resource Team hosted a dementia care planning event at the Seymour Center on Sept. 9.
The presentation, called “Dementia: Where to Start” covered dementia evaluation, care for those with dementia and available support for friends and family members.
The event sought to reduce the stigma around cognitive impairment and aging and provide resources for people who think a loved one is showing symptoms of dementia.
Project EngAGE is a leadership program run by Orange County that helps older adults become community resource leaders to better understand and address the needs of the aging population.
Kim Lamon-Loperfido is an Aging Transitions Administrator in the Orange County Department on Aging and an AFA Certified Dementia Care Partner.
“I think that it’s important for everyone to get themselves more information about brain change,” Lamon-Loperfido said. “Brain change might not necessarily mean dementia, but it’s important for folks to know what is possible if you were to receive a diagnosis and recognize that there's hope even with a diagnosis, and there's still voice and choice in how you live your life.”
Gerontologist and Aging Transitions and Volunteer Connect 55+ Specialist Lydia Arnold, who has worked at the Orange County Department on Aging for about a year, said she has noticed an influx of calls from Orange County residents expressing concerns about cognitive impairment.
“It's one of my most frequent calls, folks calling in and saying that their loved one is showing signs of dementia, or they’re not quite sure what’s going on and they’re not sure what to do or where to start,” Arnold said.
The presentation featured two guest instructors with expertise in this area: Nansi Gregor-Holt, a local family and geriatric nurse practitioner, and Serena Wong, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke.
Wong said she hopes this presentation helped people recognize normal signs of aging and things to be concerned about, and helped them feel empowered to reach out to their healthcare provider for help if they need it.
“There’s a lot of stigma around aging in society in general," she said. "We really value youth and independence and beauty – and some of these things can fade as people get older. But I do think that there is a real fear of losing independence and losing someone’s sense of self. There can be a lot of anxiety and fear about what might happen if someone does have dementia."
Wong said cognitive impairment can progress quickly and that early recognition of symptoms can prevent a crisis.
“If people ignore cognitive changes and just let them progress, sometimes they can get to a point where they’re in a crisis, and they need a lot of help which maybe we could have prevented early on,” Wong said.
According to the most recent United States Census, 15.7 percent of Orange County’s population is 65 years old or older.
Lamon-Loperfido said she thinks the presentation was important for the Chapel Hill community because its average age is rising. She said Chapel Hill community members should use the resources provided by the Department of Aging.
“If folks do experience any physical or cognitive changes, we definitely have a team of social workers, occupational therapists and other folks to help them navigate what that looks like,” Lamon-Loperfido said.
The Orange County Department on Aging and the Project EngAGE End of Life Choices Senior Resource Team will be hosting a panel discussion about dementia concerns and advance directives on Sept. 22 at the Seymour Center.
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