Following a long hiatus during the COVID pandemic, the Alzheimer’s support group in Haywood is reconnecting.

The problem, said Larry Reeves, one the the group facilitators, is that members who attended gave neither their last names nor the community in Haywood where they lived.

“People in the group are wrestling with and living with something where they need a safe space to speak out,” Reeves said. “We stress that what’s said in the group stays with the group.”

While the extra steps to guard privacy may offer comfort to attendees, it plays havoc when trying to notify those who previously attended that the meetings will be restarting.

Mirian Badgley co-facilitates the group’s monthly get-together, and said the target audience are folks providing care/support for folks with dementia.

The meetings involve open discussions on the ways lives are being impacted by dementia, and because there are similarities in the journeys, those attending are able to offer support to each other because they are on the same trek, or have been there themselves.

“Some people know more about some areas than others,” Badgley said. “Even if it’s just one little thing that will help them handle their loved one, it could really help.”

“What’s key is we allow each other an opportunity to help each other,” Reeves said. “If someone is telling about a particular challenge, there could be others who have dealt with that challenge. They can talk with each other, develop strategies for coping and a path to meet the challenge in a way to keep them safe.”

The first in-person meeting will be from 4:30-6 p.m. July 27, at the Haywood Senior Resource Center, 81 Elmwood Way, Waynesville.

The last get-together was in February 2020, Reeves said, and it is likely those who attended previously are still coping with the same issues.

The groups averaged between 15 and 20 attendees each month, but by now, there are likely others who have a loved one who has developed memory issues.

“We want to get the word out there that the group is starting up, and everyone is welcome,” Reeves said.

Individuals can simply show up, or they can call 476-7485 for more information.

Additional support

In addition to connecting with others, both Reeves and Badgley can help people connect with community resources that range from financial resources to professional help to respite care.

Badgley’s husband struggled with Alzheimer’s the last four years of his life, and she’s now helping a friend on her Alzheimer’s journey whose children are in Florida, where she doesn’t want to move.

Reeves spent the past 20 years working in the long-term care field, but became curious about dementia and Alzheimer’s out of concern for his grandmother years ago.

“I’m retired, but I still know the resources and keep trying to create resources,” Reeves said.

The primary vehicle for that is HayDRE, a group under the Mountain Projects, Inc., umbrella where donations can be made to help those struggling with dementia-related diagnoses.

The fund can help make home modifications to keep someone safer, for instance, or help defray medication costs and sessions with MemoryCare or other costs associated with the diagnosis.

Funds come from donations made by individuals who understand the difficult journey and want to have their donations stay in the county to help Haywood residents. A seven-person steering committee makes decisions on how the funds can be spent.

Perhaps even more helpful is that in his retirement, Reeves said he has more time to to spend with individuals facing the unpleasant realities of helping a loved one with Alzheimer’s.

“I feel compelled to help,” he said. “Mirian has experience and wisdom, and I have lots of expertise and contacts.”

Badgley said her husband used to wander, and one day she found him along the busy highway below their home. He was also prone to angry spurts, something that led her and the family dog to hide in the closet.

Reeves said statistically, between 3,800 and 4,200 in Haywood are living with Alzheimer’s. From the time of diagnosis, a person can live anywhere from two to 17 years with the illness, with the average being 9.5 years.

“That’s a very long journey,” he said. “You watch the person you love being erased a little bit at a time. They begin to lose themselves, lose reality. For the person living with someone with dementia, there are a lot more questions than answers. It’s no simple journey.”

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