Patti Kerr understands the statistics of Alzheimer’s disease all too well.
In the 1970s Kerr’s grandmother was diagnosed with hardening arteries in the brain. At the time, the condition was not recognized as Alzheimer’s, but today is accepted as one of the most common types of dementia.
Then in 2000, Kerr’s mother developed the disease. For seven years, Kerr and her father served as caregivers to their loved one. As a way to cope, Kerr often found herself writing napkin notes of her experiences.
“Writing helped me make sense of what was happening to me and the outside world,” says Kerr. “If something funny or memorable happened, I would write it down and put the note in a shoebox.”
She continued her note collection throughout her caregiver journey until her mother died in 2007.
“On the first anniversary after my mother’s passing, I pulled the box out,” she says.
Wanting to “pay it forward” by helping others face Alzheimer’s disease, she used her collection of experiences as material for her nationally celebrated book, “I Love You…Who Are You?” Kerr recently presented a seminar on practical tips for people caring for someone with the disease at Diakon’s The Lutheran Home at Topton. The event was scheduled as part of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
The disease, she notes, affects more than five million Americans. As one of the leading causes of death, the condition triggers irreversible progressive brain damage. Slowly destroying memory and thinking skills, Alzheimer’s may eventually interfere with the ability to perform daily tasks.
“Thirty percent of the population have someone with the disease, but fully 50% know someone facing it,” says Kerr, a certified Alzheimer disease educator.
For her book, which has sold thousands of copies throughout the U.S., she spent two years interviewing hundreds of health-care professionals, caregivers and family members.
“Ninety-five percent of what is in the book, I didn’t know until I conducted the interviews. I wanted more perspectives,” says Kerr. “My goal is to make someone’s journey easier. I feel blessed to have a wonderful opportunity like this.”
Gerry Fioriglio, a geriatric care professional, who read Kerr’s book several years ago, was excited to learn the author and educator was speaking at The Lutheran Home at Topton.
“When I heard Patti was coming to Pennsylvania, I knew I had to see her,” says Fioriglio. “Her book is terrific. I often share excerpts from it at my caregiver support groups.”
“Even if your loved one can’t laugh, laughter impacts emotion ... It’s about living in and cherishing the moment.”
Sandy “Smith,” a primary caregiver, also was drawn to the event.
“My mother is a resident [of a Diakon Senior Living community] and has Alzheimer’s,” she says. “When I heard Patti was speaking, I was thrilled. I am always looking for ways to handle this disease. I want to learn how to do the right things for my mother.”
Throughout the presentation, Kerr touched on what the Alzheimer journey “looks like” and how to cope with its impact in the real world. Discussing important physical aspects of the disease, she offered tips that can help both patients and caregivers cope. An overarching theme focused on finding joy in the journey. In fact, she discussed laughter.
“One evening, Patch Adams called me. After I was convinced it was him, we discussed the importance of laughter,” says Kerr.
That call occured because she had written a sub-chapter in her book about laughter.
“Even if your loved one can’t laugh, laughter impacts emotion in a room. It’s about living in and cherishing the present moment,” says Kerr. “I can’t change what happened to my grandmother and mother, but I can focus on the blessings.”
“Patti gave us a gift—a thought-provoking presentation—that reminded us to be more empathetic caregivers,” says Connie Hartman of The Lutheran Home at Topton staff. “She certainly had a meaningful effect on all of us.”
Tips for communicating with someone with Alzheimer's disease
©Patti Kerr All Rights Reserved
- Make eye contact
- See “eye to eye”
- Speak calmly and slowly
- Speak in short sentences
- One thought or question at a time
- Wait, listen and watch
- Don’t say “remember”
- Don’t argue or correct them
- Don’t react…distract
- Give compliments
- Ask their opinion
- Don’t talk about them in their presence