How a United Community Center program empowers families to care for loved ones with memory loss

By Matt Martinez

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories about fifteen neighborhoods in the city of Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.

The United Community Center offers services to seniors who speak Spanish. Here, attendees celebrated Puerto Rican Discovery Day at the UCC Adult Day Center. (Photo courtesy of United Community Center)

United Community Center’s Fortaleciendo Familias program gives Latinx families the opportunity to care for their Spanish-speaking loved ones who have memory loss.

Fortaleciendo Familias, a program of the UCC Latino Geriatric Medical Center Memory Clinic, provides caregiver training for family members of people with memory loss, including Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The program, which translates to Strengthening Families, is free and offered in Spanish. Offering these services in Spanish is crucial because UCC is one of the few local organizations to overcome the language barrier in the south of the city, said Ana Castaneda, seniors programs manager for the United Community Center.

“Anyway, you’re getting to a point where you’re going to need help, because caring for people with memory loss is a lot of work,” Castaneda said.

The program is divided into four sessions.

• The first session explains dementia and what happens to a person diagnosed with it.
• The second session explains behavior and Alzheimer’s disease
• The third session covers the resources available to people with memory loss and planning in advance how to use them
• The fourth session is entitled “Self-care is not selfish”. It helps those who support care services to defend themselves and how to handle the challenges ahead.

Classes are offered four weeks at a time, with different days and times during the week to provide the most availability for people.

Castaneda said the most important part of the program was education and preparation. She said helping people know what programs they qualify for and getting them signed up is key, especially as participants try to balance the rest of their daily lives. Some programs may provide financial support and food security options for families.

Castaneda said the documentation status can make it difficult for some families to qualify for the programs because undocumented immigrants are not eligible for government assistance programs. It is therefore important to highlight the elements that they can take advantage of, such as the adult day center at UCC, undocumented people can enroll in the program.

Castaneda said UCC also offers in-person training sessions for young people and a “virtual dementia tour,” which allows potential caregivers to experience what it’s like to have dementia.

This can be especially helpful for young people who may not know what their loved ones are going through.

“Until you actually understand what’s going on, it’s hard to identify with them,” Castaneda said.

Teaching family members how to interact with loved ones who have memory loss is crucial, Castaneda said. If a person with memory loss is irritated or argumentative, for example, family members may need patience.

“It’s not good to say ‘Mom, you told me five times’ – she doesn’t remember,” Castaneda said.

Adriana Gutiérrez, a 39-year-old living on 13th Street and Lapham Boulevard, applied for the program when her mother, Norma Saldivar, 69, was diagnosed with dementia.

“I joined (the program) to help my mother with her disease, and later I wanted to know more about her disease,” Gutiérrez said.

Gutiérrez said the program provided her family with moral support and helped them understand their emotions after the diagnosis.

“It’s a sad thing to see the memory of your loved one go,” Gutiérrez said.

While Gutiérrez sometimes wondered if what she was learning would be good for her mother, the training finally allowed her to help.

“I always noticed that I felt good at that time and wanted the program to last all day,” Gutiérrez said.

Castaneda encouraged those who have a family member with memory loss to join the program, especially if they plan to care for them at home.

“The name says it all,” Castaneda said. “We want to make your family stronger.”

To log in to the program

Call 414-649-2808 or email Vanessa Anciani at [email protected]

The program is available to Milwaukee County residents and those who live in Racine, Kenosha and Waukesha.

Other resources to know

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services offers a free training video on its website that covers topics such as diagnosis, symptom response, and caregiver care.

The Milwaukee County Aging and Disability Resource Center offers dementia care specialists. To contact them, call 414-289-6259 or email [email protected]

About Antoine L. Cassell

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