Alzheimer’s is called the ‘family disease.’ How to address the issues in your personal Alzheimer’s circle.

Put The Family Into Training

Put The Family Into Training

Contributing Editor

When John Hobday’s mother gave birth to four children over four years, his grandmother Therese jumped in to help out. “We were always over at her house,” he says. “She loved to cook and garden and crochet. She was really like a second mom to us.”

During college and into adulthood Hobday, now CEO and founder of the online dementia training program HealthCare Interactive, spoke to his grandmother by phone nearly every day.

When, in her 90s, Therese began to show signs of Alzheimer’s Disease, Hobday was the first to notice. A trained educator and software programmer, Hobday had an intimate knowledge of the disease from a past project for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Its aim: to develop a training program for the family members of people with Alzheimer’s .

Hobday picked up on Therese’s confusion over conversations, appointments and important dates. The clincher: when she forgot his aunt’s phone number – which she’d probably dialled at least once a day for years. “All of a sudden all of the things the dementia experts had talked about started unfolding,” Hobday says. “It was like some kind of surreal dream.”

A doctor’s assessment confirmed his fears. When asked the date, Therese missed by 20 years, and briskly told the physician that John F. Kennedy was the president. “I knew these weren’t typical signs of aging,” he says.

The programs Hobday had developed to help caregivers cope took on new meaning. “When my grandmother was diagnosed, my family knew nothing about the disease,” he says. “My grandmother would say she took the streetcar downtown. And my Aunt would say, ‘No you didn’t. The streetcar stopped running in 1954.’”

This would lead into a circular argument all too familiar to anyone who has cared for someone with AD: ‘Yes I did.’ ‘No you didn’t.’ ‘Yes I did.’
Says Hobday: “What my family and so many others really needed was an explanation of the behaviours we were seeing and some practical strategies we could use.”

His company, Minneapolis, Minn.-based HealthCare Interactive, aims to offer just that. It offers a DVD set for family caregivers, as well as online video-based training for both family and professional caregivers dealing with AD and memory loss. Why the video format? “We have online interactive tools as well,” says Hobday. “But there are ‘ah-hah moments’ that I think video is able to capture best.”

Hobday shot his video material in 18 different states, using national experts to shed light on AD and suggest coping strategies. Family members appear in the videos as well, expressing their challenges, from taking away the car keys, to managing medication, keeping their loved one safe and encouraging healthy eating. “Initially someone suggested I use actors to portray family members,” says Hobday. “But that didn’t sit well with me.”

Hobday and his team developed the 4-DVD Savvy Caregiver series in conjunction with the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. Their online Dementia Care For Families program was created in partnership with the American Alzheimer’s Association. Both centre on the CARES® approach – an acronym for Connect with the person, Assess behaviour, Respond appropriately, Evaluate what works, Share with others. Many of the clips show contrasting approaches to common difficulties.

For example: one scene features a person with AD who is falsely convinced that tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Instead of showing him a calendar and arguing that the holiday is still a week away, his wife avoids the abstract topic of time and redirects his attention.

“Who should we invite to dinner this year?” she asks. “Your aunt Florence or your cousin Ed?” The husband is distracted and starts a pleasant reminiscence about Ed and their childhood. “There’s no point in trying to get your family member to face a reality that they cannot comprehend,” Hobday says.

The first DVD in the Savvy Caregiver series is offered free of charge ($6.95 for shipping and handling). The three remaining DVDs cost $59.95 total (the price is the same in the U.S. or Canada) and an extra $20 for a homework CD-ROM.

Hobday’s company also produces a series for individuals or professionals who work with AD or dementia patients. “There are a ton of resources available for doctors and nurses and nothing for the army of people that make everything else happen – transportation staff, cleaning staff and dietary staff,” he says. “We’re looking to impact them.”

In the years since he started HealthCare Interactive, Hobday estimates he’s trained about 70,000 people in strategies for coping with dementia. “That’s not 7 million,” he says. “But it’s still a lot.” He believes Therese would be proud. “There’s a peace that comes from understanding what’s going on ” he says. “One of the messages we try to get across is to appreciate every day; focus on remaining abilities and enjoy this person where they’re at right now.”


To order Healthcare Interactive training videos, click here.

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Camilla Cornell

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