All Saints' Episcopal Church has continued with monthly gatherings as part of its Alzheimer's service mission offering access to learning resources and support, all free to the community.

MIAMI - Miami's All Saints' Episcopal Church began its Alzheimer's service mission just over a half-year ago, and the journey so far has been a rich and beneficial one for all involved.

All Saints' Rev. Mary Koppel announced the launch of the church's new service mission in early August, but planning had already been in the works for months.

Congregant Linda Smith, a former nurse who also served as the caregiver for her late father and in-laws, is who recognized in herself the calling to be a catalyst for the faith initiative.

With the support of her church and the partnerships it formed with Integris Miami and the Alzheimer's Association, the first in a planned series of learning and social support groups came together. All of it free to the community.

All Saints' congregant and Intergris Population Health Coordinator, Jordan Barlow and Integris Community Wellness Coordinator, Whitney McGhee assist as a part of the health provider's Community Health Initiative Program (CHIP).

Education Coordinators Cathy Sullins and Lashondia Horn with the Alzheimer's Association serve as the primary facilitators for the presentations offered through their organization, leading learning discussions and activities aimed at both educating attendees and encouraging positive social interactions.

All Saints' hosted its first community education program, "10 Signs of Alzheimer's Disease," Aug. 23 where Sullins shared common warning signs associated with Alzheimer's/Dementia, along with information on getting a proper diagnosis and several resource options.

In September, the church continued with the next leg of its mission, hosting "Remembering on the Route" modeled in the style of what is known as Memory Cafes, a support group structure with a social twist that has its origins in the Netherlands.

The idea behind the cafes is to provide a safe and comfortable space where caregivers and their loved ones can socialize, listen to music, play games, and enjoy other activities outside of their normal routines.

The gatherings also provide another opportunity for caregivers to find mutual support and exchange information.

During "Remembering on the Route" Koppel expressed to attendees the importance of staying engaged and offering support through faith and community.

"What we need to remember is that this will one day affect all of us. Us or someone we know," said Koppel. "If we are honest, we probably already know someone in our church or our community who needs our help. We will all one day be kneeling beside someone with Alzheimer's, and it is up to us to support them."

Learning and Growing

All Saints' has since continued with monthly gatherings with the ongoing support of Intergris Miami and the Alzheimer's Association.

Koppel said people are returning and bringing others, and discovering a value in learning and being able to connect.

"What has been the most useful has been the listening and learning," said Koppel. "More and more I am seeing familiar faces. People are coming back and people are coming back with loved ones, and I think they have found value in that, value in that they are connecting with each other."

The church has also had the benefit of welcoming local providers such as the Windridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Integris Generations along with representatives from community organizations to share information and resources.

Currently, the church is in the midst of a three-part education series for caretakers through the Alzheimer's Association with presentations on the early, mid, and late stages of the Alzheimer's/Dementia disease process.

The second session in the series was held Wednesday, Feb. 28 led by Sullins and opened with information from Pat Baker with the Miami Pilot Club discussing Project Lifesaver.

Project Lifesaver is a program that provides a personal locator system using radio frequency for individuals with cognitive disorders who are at risk of wandering, including those with Alzheimer’s/Dementia.

Sponsored by the Miami Pilot Club and implemented through the Miami Fire Department, the service is free for Miami residents and provides the use of a PLI-100 personal locator system equipped as a portable wristband and scheduled battery changes for the device.

In the event of a wandering incident, caregivers are able to contact the Miami FD through 911 who utilize a tracking device to quickly locate a missing person wearing the wristband and return them to safety.

The final session in the Alzheimer's stages series will be held Wednesday, March 28 from 11 a.m. to noon at the All Saints' parish.

Koppel said new learning and networking gatherings will continue, each tentatively scheduled for the fourth Wednesday of every month and will likely remain focused on providing educational outreach.

"We're going to continue and I think we're going to continue with that kind of education model," said Koppel. "I think what we are realizing is right now we need the information and we don't have it. You have these resources, like the Alzheimer's Association, and we have to use those resources and let them know that its there."

Koppel said providing an ongoing resource for information and support was essential especially after discovering how isolated many caregivers felt.

"The thing I was surprised to discover was how isolated people feel in their caregiving," said Koppel. They think, 'Am I the only one going through this?' or 'I must be terrible at this,' when in fact, no, they're doing a fine job, they're looking for help.

"I think there is something to be said about people taking the opportunity learn, and they're taking it. People are using the opportunity to connect with other individuals that are going through the same thing, and I really like that. They're being a kind of resource to each other."

Koppel added that she was glad for the community's continued support and the positive results it will yield.

"We're just so glad for the community support. We can't do it on our own, we've all got to work together. When we support each other, good things happen."

Upcoming dates and topics for All Saints' ongoing Alzheimer's faith initiative can be found in the News-Record, and online at the church's Facebook page and website.

All Saints' is located at 225 B St. NW in Miami. For more information call 918-542-3662.

Support Resources

Clinical, religious and social organizations serving the needs of those with Alzheimer's/Dementia and their caretakers stress the importance of being well informed and having a support system.

The Alzheimer's Association 24/7 support line is 1-800-272-3900 and additional information and resources are available on their website at www.alz.org.

For more information about Integris Generations, providing a wide scope of behavioral health services to seniors 55 and older in Ottawa County and its surrounding communities, call 918-542-3391 or 1-800-617-3391.

To learn more about services through the Windridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, including its new Moscelyne Larkin Memory Care Neighborhood which offers care for women with Alzheimer’s/Dementia and other memory impairments, call 918-540-2300 or visit www.windridgenursingandrehabilitation.com.

To learn more or to order a free personal locator device through Project Lifesaver, contact Amy Bass with the Miami Fire Department at 918-541-2291.

Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Email her at dballard@miaminewsrecord.com and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.