LIFE takes strides in making Vermilion a dementia-friendly community

By: Melanie Williamson

Vermilion is home to a new organization that is working to help people with dementia and those who care for them. LIFE: A Dementia Friendly Foundation is taking a holistic approach that includes programs for the individuals with dementia, help for their caregivers, as well as community training and awareness programs, so first responders and others are more aware of the issue and how they can help.

LIFE is an acronym for Linking Individuals and Families through Education and Engagement, and their mission is “to partner with anyone touched by dementia and offer resources, education, and engaging activities which promote and improve quality of LIFE.” LIFE is a newer start-up non-profit that is operating out of Lakeview Baptist Church located at 591 Ferndale Avenue in Vermilion. Carole Klinger, the chief executive officer for LIFE, shared how generous Lakeview Baptist has been in providing them all the space they need to offer a broad range of programs two to four days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The program runs six weeks at a time, so the number of days may vary every six weeks. However, when one six-week program ends, the next one begins, so there is not a break in the program. There is a broad range of organizations that work with LIFE to offer programs, classes, food, and more. The Alzheimer’s Association, Kingston, Elmcroft, JVS, and Small Town Sweets are just a small sampling of the businesses and organizations they are working with.  Klinger shared that they have received an outpouring of support so far as many recognize the need for such a program.

Activities and programs being offered include Stand Up for Balance, art therapy, aromatherapy, Lil Lambs Babies by Rachel, singing/music, walking, and live animal interaction. According to Care Turner, the chief operating officer, Stand Up for Balance is a proven program that helps individuals with dementia maintains physical mobility. Klinger added that loss of balance is one of the first symptoms of dementia, and the Stand Up for Balance program helps strengthen muscle memory.

Lil Lambs Babies is another proven program that has been found beneficial in helping to calm individuals with dementia. Lil Lambs are handmade baby dolls that look and feel like real babies. These dolls have been used in movies and TV shows due to their amazingly life-like appearance. They have also been found to have a very calming effect on individuals with dementia, who enjoy holding and rocking the babies.

Art therapy, which is offered by Kingston, is a significant activity as Klingler explained that they can tell what stage of dementia the individual is in based on their drawings in art therapy. Art therapy is also successfully used to help individuals with dementia communicate where they are feeling pain.

In addition to these activities which benefit the individuals with dementia, they also offer activities specifically for the caregivers including guest speakers, educational information, support groups, care coaching, aromatherapy, and more. As LIFE grows, Klinger expressed their intended goal of providing even more activities for caregivers.

Klinger explained that one of the things that make their program so successful is that they do not follow a set activity schedule. If those in attendance want to walk around, volunteers will walk with them. If they want to sing or listen to music, volunteers will turn on music or play music for them. When the volunteers start an activity such as cupcake decorating, they will ask everyone if they want to participate, but no one is forced to participate. They are allowed to participate as much or as little as they want with the organized activities.

On Tuesday, April 11, they not only had the Lil Lamb babies, but they also had a few live farm animals; baby goats, lambs, and an alpaca. This was not part of a structured program, the animals were just outside the doors of the church, and participants and their caregivers were welcome to go out, pet and hold the animals for as long as they wanted. This was a clearly enjoyable activity for participants and volunteers alike.

Klinger and Turner shared the significance of the role JVS has played in their program. Students from JVS are on hand to help with activities and programs throughout the day. They also spend time with the caregivers and individuals with dementia offering them company and someone to talk to. The JVS students also raised money to create a quiet space for caregivers that simply need a break.

While caregivers are not able to drop off their loved one and leave, they can retreat to the quiet room to read or relax. Caring for someone with dementia is a 24-hour a day task and can be both mentally and emotional draining. Being able to relax and not worry for even 20 minutes can provide a much-needed respite. It is only in recent years that the need for caregiver support has been established, and LIFE is offering a level of support not previously offered in this area.

Klingler explained that the vision of the program is to go beyond simply what they are offering at the church and to make Vermilion a dementia friendly community. This will include offering community training programs that can be attended by first responders as well as business owners and individuals to learn ways they can help in making Vermilion dementia friendly. Klingler explained that it can be as simple as offering to help a caregiver get groceries out to their car when they are shopping with their loved one, or offering patience and understanding if a caregiver is struggling with a loved one becoming agitated.

When asked about program attendance, she stated that there are no requirements placed on the couples that attend. They are encouraged to come as often as they can over the six weeks. She shared that they have one couple that comes almost every day, and several other couples that come on a regular basis. She wants to spread the word to welcome others that may be caring for a loved with dementia to stop in and check out what they have to offer. She is also very open and welcoming to community members that are interested in volunteering. For more information on how you or your business or organization can help, you can visit their website at www.dflife.org.

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