DOVER — “Sharing the Journey” turned out to be the perfect name for the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter’s annual Delaware Dementia Conference.
Nearly 600 family members and professional caregivers to individuals living with Alzheimer’s gathered in the Rollins Center at the Dover Downs Hotel and Conference Center on Wednesday for a day of learning and sharing experiences.
“As much as possible, we try to spread awareness and knowledge about Alzheimer’s,” said Krista McKay, programs and services director for the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter. “We have innovative creative care-giving tools that we try to get the word out about and lots of different kinds of speakers.
“People really seem to enjoy it. They come back year after year, so we’re really happy about it.”
Ms. McKay said there are around 26,000 people in Delaware who are living with Alzheimer’s or a related disorder.
It is the most expensive disease to treat in the United States. As such, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2015, as many as 53,000 family members and friends provided 60 million hours of unpaid care for individuals with Alzheimer’s which was worth about $740 million.
The conference gave hundreds of those caregivers a chance to share their experiences and learn tips and tools from each other, as well as from many experts in the dementia care field.
Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle served as the keynote speaker at the day-long event. The therapist, dharma teacher and award-winning author told the packed Grand Ballroom about her late husband’s six-year battle with Alzheimer’s.
Her speech was titled “Joys and Sorrows: Spiritual Perspectives on Caregiving.”
Ms. Hoblitzelle touched on a wide variety of issues, including turning caregiving into a spiritual practice, looking for lightness even when situations are challenging, the grace of diminishment and finally, death: the most powerful of teachers.
She said her husband, Hob, had a near-death experience earlier on and told her, “If dying is this easy, no problem.”
Ms. Hoblitzelle said that all of her experiences have led her to believe, “There is consciousness beyond the mind.”
She said that giving talks to groups about Alzheimer’s is not only enlightening to the crowd, but therapeutic to her.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Ms. Hoblitzelle said. “I think we all have connections and we’re hearing each other. We’re all in this together with however we relate to it.
“These kinds of conferences are wonderful. They make such a difference to everybody to know there are resources out there, to know where to go, and support groups, there’s a help line, it’s just really important.”
The conference featured breakout sessions throughout the rest of the day including such topics as: Dance/Movement Therapy and Sensory Stimulation: A Holistic Approach to Dementia Care; The Spectrum of Mild Neurocognitive Disorders; Living Well with Alzheimer’s Disease, among others.
There were 10 breakout sessions in all before Dr. Sandra Edmonds Crewe presented “Caregiving: Creating a Win-Win Experience” to bring the conference to an end.
Kristina Prendergast, manager of conference and program outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter, was overwhelmed by the interest shown in the event.
She noted there were 48 vendors on site that offered information regarding diagnosis and dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia and caregiver options, including presenting sponsor Genesis.
“It’s a great way to educate caregivers all at one time where they can learn about specialty topics in what they’re dealing with, as well as find local resources from all the vendors that are here,” Ms. Prendergast said. “Plus, it gives them a chance to network with other caregivers and people that are in a similar situation.”
Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.