“Through education, we are better preparing caregivers for the future,” said Brittany Camden-Smith, resident services coordinator for residential and assisted living at Kalex and one of two dementia capable care specialists who are training staff in all areas to become certified in dementia capable care. Brittany also coordinates a resident-only support group for caregivers of those with dementia.

Education Is Key

It was with education in mind that a monthly support group for KaLex residents whose spouses have dementia was formed about a year ago, when the pandemic brought the stresses of caregiving to a new level.

Facilitated by Brittany, the group meets every third Friday at 10:00 a.m. in the Anderson Center’s staff development room. Its main objective is to provide useful information, resources and guest speakers on various aspects of the condition that currently affects over six million Americans and is expected to rise to 13 million by 2050.

According to Brittany, the group’s curriculum is a collaborative effort between herself and participants, who offer feedback and ideas on which topics to feature, which experts to invite, and how to access more resources. “We are putting our heads together to see how we can form partnerships with specialists in the greater community to better support our caregivers.”

Empathy in Numbers

Educational goals notwithstanding, Brittany acknowledges the emotional benefit of the close-knit community of fellow residents. Being with those who can personally empathize with one another – and who may not have the support of adult children or other family members nearby – is unique and invaluable.

“As staff members, we haven’t walked in their shoes,” remarked Brittany. She notes that a new caregiver support group presented by the Alzheimer’s Association (open to the public, meeting on the fourth Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Borden Health Center) follows a less topic-driven, more traditional format of sharing feelings and experiences.   

Still Thriving

A pervasive attitude underlying not only the support group, but all of the Kalex community is that dementia does not mean the end of thriving. “Everyone, even those with dementia, can have quality of life,” asserts Brittany, whose experience in senior living began 16 years ago when she accepted her first job out of high school at Kalex.

“It’s very satisfying for me when I’m training staff to see the paradigm shift, the moment it clicks that we can meet people where they are and focus on their abilities and not on what’s been lost.” With grant funds, Brittany hopes to take the “show on the road,” providing dementia capable care training to emergency workers and others in the county.

One Big Family

Brittany adds that seniors are not the only ones benefiting from care at Kalex. “Our residents are so supportive of staff, too, so invested in our lives. It’s wonderful to have extra ‘grandparents’ in our corner. Kalex is a huge family.”  

Other Programs

Special Note: The local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association also holds a Caregiver Support Group on the Kendal at Lexington campus. This group is open to the public and is co-facilitated by Katie Harlow, Resident Life Director for Kendal at Lexington. Visit alz.org/grva to learn more about caregiver programs and resources.