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Live with Purpose - November 15, 2023
by Jessica Fredericksen
The large auditorium at the Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Centerville, Virginia was filled with smiles and excited volunteers starting at 6:00 a.m. on Friday, November 10. We were there bright and early, excited to start our very important day together!
The Northern Virginia Dementia Care Consortium members represent organizations and government entities including AARP Virginia, Arlington Virginia, the Alzheimer’s Association, City of Alexandria, INOVA Elderlink, Fairfax County Department of Family Services, GraceFul Care, Goodwin Living, INOVA Parkinson’s and Movement Disorder Center, Insight Memory Care Center and Loudon County. This team works tirelessly for an entire year to plan the annual Northern Virginia Dementia Care Conference.
This year marked the 37th annual conference since the consortium was developed.
Each year, the Consortium meets to plan the conference. We select speakers, acquire sponsors, reserve a venue and plan all the details that go into a successful day of learning. The audience is made up of both professional and family caregivers, and there is certainly something that applies to everyone in the wide range of programming offered. This year’s conference was the first one in person after holding virtual conferences during the pandemic.
The energy was palpable in the room as volunteers finished setting up the table decorations and ensured all the AV equipment was working and conference attendees started to arrive. As exhibitors got set up, it was a fun reunion for many of the local organizations who work together frequently and now had the opportunity to attend a high-quality day of education together.
Goodwin Living is a proud founding member of the Northern Virginia Dementia Care Consortium, and we were honored to be the keynote speaker sponsor this year as well as provide education on brain healthy nutrition in a live demo. While I encourage you to put next year’s conference on your calendar, here are a few tidbits from each presentation this year. Our annual theme was “When Caregiving Calls: Building Caregiver Resilience”.
Dr. Aaron Blight, founder of Caregiving Kinetics, opened up the morning with the keynote address. Dr. Blight spoke from his own experience as a caregiver and what he has learned over the years as a practitioner. His inspiring keynote address covered practical tips for caregivers to handle stress and create resilience while acknowledging that caregiving is not something you necessarily volunteer for, but rather a call you answer for those you love.
Dr. Abigail Lawler is a board-certified member of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and currently serves as the Movement and Memory Disorders Specialist Director at INOVA Parkinson’s & Movement Disorder Center. Dr. Lawler provided a detailed overview of normal aging versus dementia and details on the pathology and neurological changes that come with a dementia diagnosis. She went through details on the specific types of dementia and spoke about the need to get a specific diagnosis. She also provided useful information on pharmacological and nonpharmacological treatments for dementia and associated conditions like depression or anxiety.
Regina Foster started her talk on caregiving discussing person-directed care and the importance of involving the individual in decisions and processes related to everyday care and life. She also emphasized the importance of recognizing early signs of burnout so you can react proactively and engage in healthy self-care practices before you get to the breaking point. Many of her strategies included tips on effective communication and what communication errors to avoid at each stage of dementia. Most importantly, Regina recommends communicating with a team of people to support both you as the caregiver and the individual living with dementia.
In an extremely engaging session, Dr. Brittany Lamb and Tamara Turner spoke about the important documents one needs to have in place when planning for aging and end of life care. They shared resources like the Conversation Project’s Guide for Caregivers of Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementia and reviewed common misconceptions about advanced planning documents. Dr. Lamb and Ms. Turner both took audience questions which led to an engaging discussion on the importance of being prepared and revisiting your advanced care plan every year to assess and ensure everything is in order.
Dr. Beryl Dennis shared a story from the heart about her experiences caring for her mother, whose birthday was just one day before the NVDCC Conference. Going with our theme of resilience and how to best answer the call of caregiving when it comes up, Dr. Dennis spoke about how faith and connecting with her spirituality was an important part of her self-care while caring for her mother. She shared suggestions for reflection for caregivers on what refreshes their spirit or gives them support when caregiving gets particularly draining and encouraged caregivers to prioritize whatever that thing is that spiritually fills them.
Goodwin Living dieticians Alex Freiman and Ali Neov, along with Goodwin Living Culinary Innovation Chef Brian Patterson, spoke on the importance of creating easy delicious brain-healthy meals. They provided a live demo of how to make some easy, nutrient-packed toast and how to massage kale with olive oil to make it easier to chew and digest. They designed and provided a packet of easy brain-healthy recipes that follow the MIND diet.
Finally, the conference wrapped up with a performance from Encore Creativity’s Sentimental Journey Singers. Led by conductor Mary Ann East, the group sang several patriotic songs and invited the audience to stand and sing along with a medley of songs representing the different branches of the armed forces. It was a wonderful tribute to veterans and to the creativity and expression that individuals living with dementia are so capable of sharing. Encore Creativity is the nation’s largest choral program specifically for older adults, and they have numerous programs for individuals living with dementia or cognitive change. In Sentimental Journey Singers, individuals living with dementia attend choral rehearsals with their caregivers and learn music to perform at the end of each semester.
As all of us volunteers were saying goodbye and packing up to leave, we made sure to clean up from the event and carefully stow our tablecloths and signs away for next year. We already have our next planning meeting scheduled and will begin preparation for the 38th Northern Virginia Dementia Care Conference in January. Next year’s conference will be held on Monday, November 11. Historically, the conference has been held on the observance of Veterans Day because it allows both professional and family caregivers a greater opportunity to attend.
If these short snippets of the presentations sounded interesting or useful to you, I hope you will join us next year for the next conference!
Goodwin Living Director of Brain Health Jessica Fredericksen, CDP, MSW, RCAL, joined Goodwin Living in early 2021 as Brain Health Program Manager. She is focused on advancing brain health and dementia awareness through education, the StrongerMemory program and serving on the Dementia Advance Team. Jessica is a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP) with a Masters in Gerontological Social Work (MSW) from Washington University in St. Louis. Before joining Goodwin Living, she worked for an Assisted Living & Memory Care company in the Midwest where she gained experience as an Executive Director and Corporate Director of Community Excellence. When she’s not focused on brain health, Jessica enjoys volunteering with her church’s Youth Group and taking hikes with her cockapoo, Chloe Rose.