The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) was founded in 2002, by Bert E. Brodsky, who was frustrated by the lack of services and support available to families living with Alzheimer’s disease and related illnesses—a lesson he learned firsthand, while caring for his mother.
“My mother lived with Alzheimer’s disease from 1980 until 1992,” Brodsky said. “At that time, no one understood the disease; no one knew how to deal with it. After her passing, I wanted to get involved–to help educate and support the families living with this disease. I wanted to give them what my family didn’t have—tools and strategies for coping with their loved ones’ condition. I wanted to help them understand what is happening to their loved one—to ask them to try to put themselves in their loved one’s shoes—and to respond with patience and compassion.”
Since its founding, AFA has grown into a nonprofit that unites more than 2,500 organizations nationwide in the goal of providing optimal care and services to people living with dementia and to their families and caregivers. Its services include a national toll-free helpline and free, telephone-based support groups, free educational conferences and materials, professional training, memory screenings, and more.
National Toll-Free Helpline and Free, Telephone-Based Support Groups
AFA’s national toll-free helpline (866-232-8484) is open from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. EDT Monday through Friday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT on Saturdays, and is staffed solely by licensed social workers. Daily, our social workers field calls on questions as basic as “My loved one was just diagnosed with dementia. What do I do now?” to issues as complex as navigating long-term care and managing the variety of emotions that come with caregiving. They offer counsel, support and referrals to local resources for both family and professional caregivers.
In addition, throughout the year, AFA’s licensed social workers facilitate a variety of telephone-based support groups. These groups are ideal for individuals who are juggling work, caring for family, and more, and typically take place in the late afternoon or evening. Participants can join from the comfort of their home or office, their car, or any other place they can carve out an hour to get support from both clinicians and peers. Currently, AFA has two ongoing support groups—one that is general in nature, and one that is tailored to adults whose parents are living with Alzheimer’s disease. A support group focused on young-onset Alzheimer’s disease will kick off this fall. Registration is required and space is limited. For more information, call 866-232-8484.
Free Educational Conferences and Materials
AFA offers a free, monthly teleconference, “Care Connection,” to give family and professional caregivers practical tips and strategies for navigating their caregiving roles. Each session features a guest host and topics have included making the most of a doctor visit, the benefit of telling your story to create change, recognizing and treating depression for you and your loved one, and advocating for a loved one in long-term care. The teleconference takes place the second Thursday of each month, from 1-2 p.m. EDT. The July session will focus on late-life bullying and the August session will focus on understanding mild cognitive impairment (MCI). No registration is required. To join, call 877-594-8353 and use guest ID# 46692951#.
In addition to Care Connection, AFA offers free in-person educational conferences—AFA Concepts in Care—throughout the country. These conferences feature a variety of noted experts in the field of dementia care, with topics ranging from palliative care to research, communication techniques and recreational therapies. Free, confidential memory screenings are offered at each conference. The remaining conferences for 2016 are Chicago, Ill. (September 15), Washington, D.C. (September 29), Melville, N.Y. (October 26), and West Palm Beach, Fla. (November 11).
AFA is also proud to offer dementia-specific training to healthcare professionals and paraprofessionals of all levels. Our training philosophy is rooted in the belief that optimal dementia care relies on building relationships. This person-centered approach to care values promotes the unique strengths, goals, and humanity of each individual, involves interdisciplinary collaboration among care providers, and places individuals with dementia and their families at the center of decision-making. AFA offers DVD-based, in-person and web-based trainings.
“AFA Partners In Care: Supporting Individuals Living With Dementia” is a comprehensive six-hour training DVD that has been recognized as a provider of 5.5 continuing education contact hours for licensed social workers by both the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Social Work and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Individuals who complete the training, and pass the associated exam, are eligible to receive these contact hours, as well as certification as an “AFA Dementia Care Partner.”
For more information about AFA’s training programs, click here.
National Memory Screening Program
One of AFA’s hallmark programs, the National Memory Screening Program seeks to educate people about brain health and the importance of early detection of memory problems by offering free, confidential memory screenings and educational information, year-round, at sites nationwide. Since its inception, the program has screened more than 2.5 million people.
Like many other routine health screenings (blood pressure, hearing, skin check), a memory screening lasts just five to 10 minutes. It consists of a series of questions and tasks designed to gauge memory, thinking and language skills. AFA-sponsored screenings are administered by qualified healthcare professionals and while results are not a diagnosis, scoring below the normal threshold can signal that someone should follow up with a physician for a full evaluation.
It’s important to keep in mind that not all memory issues are a function of Alzheimer’s disease. There are a number of reasons a person could be experiencing memory problems—including lack of sleep, depression, vitamin deficiencies and thyroid problems—many of which are treatable and curable. If a memory problem does turn out to be Alzheimer’s, early detection can help put a person on the proper path to treatment, as well as afford them the opportunity to participate in long-term care and financial planning discussions, to participate in clinical trials and to make known their end-of-life wishes.