Caregivers, professionals learn about disease at Alzheimer’s University

MORGANTOWN — J.T. Hunter believes life put him where he was meant to be.

Hunter, who is the Family Services coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association, learned about the disease the hard way — through his grandmother’s diagnosis.

He said he considered her his second mother and best friend. As her disease progressed, he and his mother became her primary caregivers, and the fight against Alzheimer’s became his passion.

The West Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association has been working around the state to make resources available to those in need.

On July 25, the nonprofit will host the Alzheimer’s & Dementia University for Families and Professionals at WVU Medicine.

Alzheimer’s University has grown over the years. What had started as a day geared more toward professionals became something bigger. The organization realized family members and loved ones who were caregivers were not getting the information they needed, especially in more isolated areas.

“The point is to bring these [sessions] to family caregivers in their communities and bring experts that are near that area or serve that area that can give you that inside information,” Hunter said.

A way to think about it, he said, is the association wants people to “fill up their toolboxes with the education, the empowered and enlightenment” to be able to walk the journey as a caregiver.

The conference still includes professionals, but the nonprofit wants to be there for caregivers who may feel isolated and just want the best for their loved ones.

The program progressed as the Alzheimer’s Association heard more from caregivers about what they are facing.

“The caregivers really teach us every day. We learn their strengths, their weaknesses, their needs; and they really help us steer and provide the best education and programming,” he said.

Alzheimer’s University also reminds caregivers they aren’t alone, and that support lies in others taking the same journey.

Born and raised in West Virginia, Hunter sees people often take the initiative to step up and take care of their own. He said when someone takes on the role of a caregiver, they may not know a lot about available services, health insurance and stumbling blocks that hinder people having access to care. Long-term care may not be covered by Medicare or insurance, and there could be barriers in services.

Discussing legal to financial, healthcare and communication, the day allows for making connections with those who understand what others are going through.

“If nothing else, we all need an outlet with no judgment and a safe place to say those real things,” Hunter said.

Hunter wants people to realize Alzheimer’s doesn’t discriminate, and he thinks that’s one thing that makes it relevant to everyone.

In West Virginia, there are at least 37,000 people who are diagnosed with dementia, and 107,000 unpaid family caregivers. The Alzheimer’s Association knows there are more out there. Hunter said everyone will have a connection to the disease at some point.

“Because it’s going to affect everyone, I encourage people, even if you don’t have the connection today and you just want to learn more, or for the day if it ever happens, you can come out to this event and start to learn about it,” he said.

For more information, and registration visit alz.org/wv.

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