Happy Volunteer Appreciation Week!

10580566055_82b0915cc5_h2013 Vol Appreciation-Mia Speaking to Group

Happy National Volunteer Appreciation Week! I would like to sincerely thank the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter volunteers!

I’ve had the pleasure of serving as the Volunteer and Outreach Manager for Metro Atlanta for more than 5 years. During that time, I’ve met volunteers from all walks of life. Undeniably, my favorite part of my job is interviewing volunteers to get to know them better. Many volunteers come to us because of a family connection to the disease, but we also have a number of volunteers without a family connection, whom just feel compelled to support our cause. Each volunteer is unique. I’ve learned that everyone has a different reason for volunteering and I think it is important to take the time to hear what brought them to our organization. It is an indescribable feeling I get when I meet a new volunteer and his/her passion beams through.

As you might be able to tell from the photos above, I absolutely love our talented and passionate volunteers. I truly appreciate what each and every one of them contributes to the Association. Whether you serve as an Administrative volunteer, Speakers Bureau Representative, or Walk volunteer, we simply want you to know that we really appreciate your commitment. Without our volunteers, none of the work we do would be possible. Thank you.

The Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter is always in need of volunteers and there are many ways you can help. To learn more about volunteering with us, please visit http://www.alz.org/georgia/in_my_community_15009.asp .

Mia Chester, Volunteer and Outreach Manager


The Longest Day: June 21st

thelongestdayOn June 21, from sunrise to sunset, teams across the world will put their passion to good work raising funds and awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association.  Held annually on the summer solstice, The Longest Day is about people doing what they love to honor the strength, heart and endurance of those facing Alzheimer’s disease.   The Longest Day is held on June 21, the summer solstice. The duration of this sunrise-to-sunset event symbolizes the challenging journey of those living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.

The Longest Day is a team effort!  We invite you, your co-workers, family and friends to work together for a good cause and a good time!  Teams can choose an activity that reflects the hobbies or interests of a friend or family member facing Alzheimer’s.  Or, they can create a fun day around one of their own passions whether it’s baking, bowling, swimming, dancing…the possibilities are endless!

Each team is asked to register and raise a minimum of $1600 to advance the efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association.  Dollars raised will be used to provide vital care and support for those affected by the disease as well as fund promising research towards methods, prevention and one day, a cure for Alzheimer’s.

For more information or to register your team, please visit alz.org/thelongestday.  We look forward to having you join us for The Longest Day!

No more excuses!



The following is an excerpt from the book, The 36-Hour Day, by Mace and Rabins. This is a book that we at the Alzheimer’s Association frequently encourage folks to purchase from us, or from their favorite book-seller because it’s an excellent reference for caregivers. We do not encourage caregivers to read it cover to cover after a diagnosis is made – that can be much too overwhelming. Instead we encourage them to think of it more like an encyclopedia for dementia, where they can look up specific concerns or stages as they arise. I particularly like this except because as much as I want to let caregivers off the hook (because they have the hardest most never-ending job in the world!), many caregivers make a lot of excuses for not attending a support group. Here are some of them and some suggestions for getting past the excuse and into a position where you can get the support you need and deserve.

I’m not a group type of person. The families we know say, “Go anyway,” even if this is the only group you ever attend. These disease are so terrible and last so long that our usual methods of coping are not sufficient. We all can use suggestions on how to cope. Just hearing that someone else deals with similar problems can renew your energy.

I can’t leave the person who has dementia. Fatigue can lead to inertia. It is easier just to stay home than to find a sitter or to put up with the objections of the person who has dementia.*

I can’t talk to strangers. The people in support groups have faced similar problems and won’t remain strangers long. If you are shy, just listen the first few times.

I can’t drive at night. Ask the group leader if someone can pick you up. Although problems like these are real concerns, letting them keep you from getting the support you need indicates your depression and fatigue. There are ways around these problems if you are determined. **

Sometimes a particular support group is not right for you. For example, if all the members have their family member at home and yours is in a nursing home, you may feel as if you don’t fit in. Many areas have several support groups;visit another group, or attend a chapter meeting and ask around for a group that has concerns similar to yours.

Support groups aren’t for everyone. Some people do not need the extra support these groups give. Others find it more comfortable to talk individually with a a knowledgeable person. Before you decide you don’t need to attend a support group, we urge you to try one a few times. ***


*The Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter offers a telephone support group for folks who have trouble getting out the house because they are caring for a loved-one. Call us at 800-272-3900 for more information.

**Again, call us for information on our telephone support group OR find a group that meets in the day-time from our list: http://alz.org/georgia/in_my_community_support.asp

***If you prefer one-on-one support, we also have a peer-to-peer support program called A Time to Talk – call us and ask about this program at 800-272-3900


The 36 Hour Day

The 36 Hour Day

“You have Alzheimer’s…Come back in six months”


I sat in my office on a crisp, cold day in January listening to “Sally*”, a 70 year old woman who had just been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease over the holiday season.    Recently, Sally had some tests done, a couple of scans, and after the results came in her doctor simply said:  “You have Alzheimer’s Disease.  Here is a prescription for medication and lets do a follow-up appointment in 6 months.”  Sally was devastated.

What now? Sally did not know much about Alzheimer’s disease and was unsure of the steps to take next.  Unfortunately, more and more people are being diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s and Sally’s experience at the doctor is the norm.   People are getting diagnosed earlier, but they are not getting the much needed information and tools to help them deal with their diagnosis.  Those with early stage Alzheimer’s and dementia are often left to cope with the reality of their illness on their own, and usually without much understanding.  Many important life decisions can and need to be made while one is still in the early stages of the disease.  Care choices and wishes for the future, driving safety and financial and legal matters are only some of the issues that need to be addressed for someone with an early diagnosis.  Having a basic understanding and knowledge of the disease and its process can help many who are suffering with fear, anxiety, and the unknown. Many people try to deal with their diagnosis alone and keep it hidden, although they don’t have to.

Sally reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association and found the help and guidance that she needed.  Sally has participated in several care consultations as well as attended the Living with Alzheimer’s disease for those with early stage Alzheimer’s.  Sally has also realized that she still has quality of life and will continue to stay active and involved with her church, community and family.  Early Diagnosis does not mean life is over; early diagnosis can actually improve quality of life and bring new meaning and purpose.  Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.  The Alzheimer’s Association is here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  You don’t have to walk this path alone. Call us at 800-272-3900 to speak with a counselor today.

*Name has been changed to protect identity

Family Caregiver Education Programs!

Professional healthcare workers and caregivers, like nurses, certified nursing assistants, social workers, etc; often times receive dementia training through their employer or as part of their annual certifications. But what about family caregivers? Where can they go to receive similar training on dementia basics, behaviors and safety issues?

Here! Okay, not here here – not on the blog – but here in Georgia! Throughout the year, the Alzheimer’s Association offers family caregivers training on a variety of topics, around the state. Caring for a loved one or family member is a much different experience than caring for someone as part of your career. Family care involves a whole different set of challenges for both the caregiver and care recipient involved.  We want to help prepare you for some of those challenges and we also hope that you’ll meet other caregivers with whom you can connect.

To see our list of upcoming classes and get information about registering, visit us on our website: http://alz.org/georgia/in_my_community_education.asp .

We're ready to field your questions at our next education class or program!

We’re ready to field your questions at our next education class or program!

Slaying the Dragon

This image of The Dragon Slayer found on Countocram at: http://countocram.deviantart.com/art/the-dragon-slayer-42594602

This image of The Dragon Slayer found on Countocram at: http://countocram.deviantart.com/art/the-dragon-slayer-42594602

I’d never thought of myself as a dragon slayer before, but when I consider what I enjoy most about my work at the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter, it seems a fitting metaphor.

What dragon do I get to slay on a regular basis? The dragon of ignorance. I teach family caregivers about the dementias, about behaviors that accompany dementias beginning in about the middle stage of the disease, and how to communicate more effectively with their loved one who is losing the ability to remember, reason, understand, and speak.

I can’t tell you how many families get a diagnosis of a dementia – Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, fronto-temporal dementia (to name just the most common forms) –  and have little or no idea how important it is to learn about their form of dementia and how to manage the care of their loved one.

To combat the disease of ignorance, I get to go out into the community, or conduct a series of classes here at the Chapter offices to help caregivers understand what is happening to their loved one, and help them to develop effective strategies for coping with the changes.

My favorite weapon for slaying the dragon is the 8-week class series, Living with Alzheimer’s for the Caregiver. During these 8 weeks, I have the pleasure of bringing caregivers into the light of confident, competent caregiving in meeting the challenges in each of the 3 stages of the disease: early, middle and late. During the series, we weave ourselves together into a supportive group of friends. Along the way of learning, we laugh, and we enjoy one another’s company while appreciating each one’s struggle to provide the best possible care for themselves and their loved one.

Today, a caregiver asked me if I haven’t heard it all and if I don’t get weary of the stories. I told him: “Yes, it’s true that I’ve heard many stories. But I’ve never heard your story. And it’s your uniqueness that keeps me alive and present.” Alive and present to slay one more dragon on his behalf!

Sarah Carson

Sarah Carson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been with the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter for nearly twelve years.

Alzheimer’s Awareness Day 2015: So Much Accomplished!

Thursday, February 12, was Alzheimer’s Awareness Day at the Georgia State Capitol.  Of the 200 Georgia advocates attending the event, over 75% indicated that they had never attended before.

Following an update on the Chapter’s Platform issues, we joined Governor Nathan Deal and several supportive legislators for our annual photo opportunity.  Everywhere you turned in the Capitol and the Coverdell Legislative Office Building was a sea of purple.

Posing on the Capitol steps with Governor Nathan Deal

Posing on the Capitol steps with Governor Nathan Deal

Some of our advocates went in constituent groups to meet with their state senator or state representative in their offices, at previously scheduled appointments

The advocates were treated to a lunch program including the following speakers, talking about our Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias State Plan or about our current Platform issues including Chairman Wendell Willard, sponsor of HB 72—Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Bill; Kathy Floyd, Executive Director of the Georgia Council on Aging, reviewing HB86—the Repositioning of the Aging Agency Bill, sponsored by Chairman Tommy Benton; and Maureen Kelly, addressing the “End the Wait Ask,” reviewing the $10 million appropriations request for funding for Home and Community-Based Services.  Advocates who did not have appointments began going as constituent groups to call their senators or representatives out of Session.  By the end of the day, all 56 Senators or their staff members, and all 180 Representatives or their staff members had been visited by one of our advocates or staff—all received packets providing our Platform, fact sheets on each of our issues, and general fact sheets about Alzheimer’s disease.  97 advocates spoke directly with 55 senators or representatives—presenting the face of the Association and the face of Alzheimer’s to that legislator.  From the various meetings with legislators and staff, over half of the current seated legislators have a personal connection to Alzheimer’s or a related dementia.

Dr. James Bulot, Director of the Division of Aging Services, and Chairman of the Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias State Plan, updated the advocates on the implementation of the State Plan.   Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health, spoke on her agency’s role in the State Plan implementation and on Alzheimer’s as a public health crisis in Georgia.

A highlight of the lunch program was delivered by Shelly Hill, an advocate, family caregiver, and wife of Senator Judson Hill—sharing her personal story of financial exploitation of her father, and the need for HB 72 to be passed.

Shelly Hill holds a photograph of her father, her reason for becoming an Advocate.

Shelly Hill holds a photograph of her father, her reason for becoming an Advocate.

Prior to coming to the Capitol, many advocates attended training at one of 14 training opportunities provided across the state in the Chapter’s seven regions.  Additional advocates reviewed the Power Point training module on the Chapter’s advocacy page, to prepare themselves for the day.

Now, that the update and report on the day is completed—I want to thank each advocate, each lunch program participant, each staff member, and each of the many partner organizations who joined us in making our Eighth Annual Alzheimer’s Awareness Day at the Georgia State Capitol a success!  …and as an example of your hard work that day:

  • HB86 unanimously passed the House today…now, it crosses over to the Senate and goes through the process there…keep up the GREAT work!

So, when we are asked why we advocate, we simply refer to those we represent who live daily with the disease—persons with dementia, family caregivers sharing their journey, professional caregivers who choose to care, physicians, nurses, hospice, and long-term industry individuals—and say “How can we not advocate?”—how can we not make the time to develop plans; e-mail, call, and visit legislators; attend Awareness Day at the Capitol, and use our VOICES as loudly and as long as needed to raise the awareness and concern that any one of us could be next.

I am committed to stay in this fight until we overcome this disease—I am committed to do all in my power as an individual and as a staff person of the Association to be a catalyst to bring about the end of Alzheimer’s in my lifetime.  How about you?

Parksinson’s Disease: Understanding a Complicated Condition

The following data is from the National Institute of Health, originally posted at: http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/nov2014/feature2 . You can find additional information about Parkinson’s Disease HERE on the Alzheimer’s Association website.

Parkinson’s Disease
Understanding a Complicated Condition

Illustration of an older man standing with a cane and a woman holding his arm to aid balance.

We rely on our brains for every movement we make, whether writing, walking, talking, or even sleeping. But a serious brain disorder like Parkinson’s disease can rob a person of the ability to do everyday tasks that many of us take for granted. There’s no cure, but treatment can help. And researchers continue to seek new understanding to improve medical care.

Parkinson’s disease evolves gradually over time. The early signs may be barely noticeable. A person’s movements may change slightly. You might notice slowness, rigidity, or difficulty balancing or walking. The person’s face may lack expression, or handwriting may become small and cramped. Eventually, these changes can become more severe and interfere with daily life. It might become harder to sleep, think, eat, speak, smell, and make decisions. As the disease worsens, symptoms may become difficult to control.

Parkinson’s disease usually arises after age 50, but can also appear earlier in life. It affects about 600,000 people nationwide. As Americans age, the number of people with Parkinson’s disease is expected to rise dramatically.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder, which means that brain cells gradually malfunction and die. The disease damages brain cells that make a chemical called dopamine. The resulting dopamine shortage causes the movement problems that mark Parkinson’s disease.

Although researchers don’t yet understand what causes Parkinson’s disease, the body’s genes likely play some role. A number of genes have been linked to the risk of developing Parkinson’s. “Diving deeper into the genetics of the disease is providing us with hints about the underlying biology,” says Dr. Beth-Anne Sieber, an NIH expert on Parkinson’s disease.

But genes are only part of the picture. NIH-funded scientists are searching for other factors that might lead to the disease. One goal of this research is to discover new targets for drugs that can slow disease progression.

If you notice any of the common signs of Parkinson’s disease, see a health care provider. Your doctor may refer you to a neurologist, a physician specializing in the nervous system. A careful exam and certain tests can help with diagnosis.

To treat Parkinson’s, doctors prescribe combinations of medicines that work to regulate dopamine in the brain. “This helps free up people to move better and lessens the troubling movement problems of Parkinson’s,” Sieber says.

A surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation is an option for some patients. In this approach, a small pacemaker-like system is placed in areas of the brain that control movement.

Research suggests that eating right and exercising may help reduce or delay symptoms. Scientists are studying how much and what kinds of exercise can most help improve patient health and quality of life.

Many potential new treatments for Parkinson’s disease are now being studied in NIH-funded clinical trials. “There’s a great need for people with Parkinson’s and their families to participate in clinical research,” says Sieber. “Participation is key.”

Train Your Brain!

We talk a lot about what to do after a diagnosis of dementia, but what can we all do to keep our brains as healthy as possible now? Our sister chapter – Central & North Florida Alzheimer’s Association – have worked with a local health foundation to put together this great website about brain health – complete with news, articles and even brain games! Check out more on their website by clicking HERE.

Here are their top 6 Brain Commandments:

1. Eat smart.

The brain is a marvelous machine, and it needs the right fuel to run most efficiently. That means seeking out foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, ALA and other healthy fats, choline, and antioxidants, which help power the brain to build new connections and prevent declining cognitive abilities as we age. Learn more about how and why to follow a brain-healthy diet.

2. Work out.

Regular aerobic exercise — no matter when in your life you start it — has proven brain-boosting benefits. Exercise increases blood flow, which means more oxygen and nourishment gets to the brain. It helps relieve anxiety and improves mood, and can even make you smarter by creating new and better connected brain cells. Learn more about how working your muscles works your brain too.

3. Chill out.

When you’re stressed — whether momentarily, as by a loud noise, or long term, as by a difficult life situation — your brain and body focus on survival. While the occasional adrenaline rush helps build new neural pathways, chronic stress can lead to brain shrinkage, negatively affecting both memory and mood. Learn more about relaxing your way to a really healthy brain.

4. Hang out.

Research shows that seniors with rich social networks are much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia than their less-connected peers, even when they’ve shown the physical beginnings of the disease. Exactly why is a still a mystery, though a large group of friends is associated with a larger amygdala, a part of the brain that is responsible for emotional processing and memory storage. So go make some friends!Learn more about how social butterflies build stronger brains.

5. Challenge yourself.

Learning something new is more than a matter of exercising the brain you’ve got — it actually means building more brain. As we exercise our mental facilities, the brain encodes that information by making new connections between neurons. As these new connections are used again and again, the neurons become one unit dedicated to working quickly and efficiently. The more you learn, the better you get at learning. Learn more about your brain’s love affair with learning.

6. Find your purpose.

All brains collect plaques and tangles as they age, but those don’t always manifest as disease. Interestingly, people who have some driving purpose in life — whether it’s dedication to a cause, volunteerism, a hobby, or art — have less cognitive impairment than those that don’t, even when their brains show similar patterns of wear and tear. Perhaps it’s the power of positive thinking, or the brain’s way of reaching a defined goal, but clarity of purpose seems to keep us thinking more clearly. Learn more about living with purpose.


Thanks again to the Central & North Florida Chapter for their assistance in putting this together. The link to their BrainUP page is: http://www.brainupfl.org/.



mark your calendars


We just heard last week from Augusta Program Director Beth Williams about some of her inspiration for advocacy.  Well get ready, it’s time for us all to make our VOICES heard. This year’s Alzheimer’s Awareness Day is going to be held at the Georgia State Capitol on Thursday, February 12th. This is a state-wide event and all are invited to attend.

This is an opportunity to tell YOUR story, as a diagnosed person, as a caregiver, as someone who has lost a loved one – to Georgia law-makers. The importance of legislators hearing our stories cannot be stressed enough – how else will they know that more resources and services are needed for their constituents facing dementia? How else will they know that the epidemic of dementia is real in Georgia and requires more research and attention? They won’t – they won’t know unless we all raise our voices and tell them. 

The Alzheimer’s Association staff and volunteers will be there with you to help you with the details of the day (the capitol can be a confusing place!), you don’t need to have been a political-science major to join us. All you need to do is register and show-up! We’ll provide everything else. Details about the day and a link to online registration can be found by clicking HERE.

Join us on Thursday, February 12 2015. Raise your VOICE with ours and let’s make a difference in the lives of everyone impacted by dementia.