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Conway woman starts Alzheimer’s lunch program

By Tammy Keith

This article was published October 29, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.

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Vivian Trickey Smith of Conway, a board member of Alzheimer’s Arkansas, volunteers to organize the group’s Lunch and Learn program each month at First United Methodist Church of Conway. Smith, whose late mother had Alzheimer’s disease, said the free meetings provide invaluable information for caregivers. The next program will be Nov. 8.

— Alzheimer’s Arkansas volunteer Vivian Trickey Smith said she asked to start monthly Lunch and Learn programs in Conway for caregivers because of the “huge need” she saw.

Presentations are already scheduled through December 2018.

“All you need is a cup of coffee and a room,” Smith said. “They just need to walk into that room and see, ‘I’m not alone.’”

The second Lunch and Learn is scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. Nov. 8 at First United Methodist Church, 1610 Prince St. in Conway. The speaker is Lora Hale, a social worker for Arkansas Hospice. The free event is held the second Wednesday of each month, and lunch is provided.

Smith found out about the organization through her friend Elise Siegler, president of Alzheimer’s Arkansas, who called Smith to help with a dinner to honor advocates and raise money.

“I just became more impressed and more ingrained in the program,” Smith said.

Smith’s mother, Virginia Rogers of North Little Rock, had Alzheimer’s disease for five years before she died in 2013.

“I didn’t know there was anything like Alzheimer’s Arkansas,” Smith said. “It’s all about the caregivers, respite care, education, support — anything we can do to help.”

Her mother was diagnosed at age 87. She was a widow and lived alone at the time.

“She was so vibrant and so involved — PTA, church. She was the first female lay leader of the United Methodist Church in the ’70s when it was just unheard of,” Smith said.

Smith also said her mother was an expert at Scrabble.

“You never questioned her at Scrabble because you were going to lose,” Smith said, laughing.

However, when Smith took her mother to vote in a presidential election, Rogers didn’t remember how to get to the house of her best friend, whom they were picking up, and she couldn’t remember how to get to the church where they needed to go to vote. She also wanted to vote for a man who wasn’t on the ballot.

Smith realized something was wrong and took her mother to a doctor to be tested for dementia. The doctor said Rogers shouldn’t live alone, and Smith said the family made the hard decision to put Rogers in an assisted-living facility. As her condition progressed, she went to a memory center, then a nursing home.

“This is the crazy part — I interviewed, I can’t tell you how many assisted-living homes, and she was in and out of the hospital. She’d quit taking her pills and get disoriented — and no one ever told me there was anything like Alzheimer’s Arkansas,” Smith said.

Smith found out about the Alzheimer’s Arkansas Lunch and Learns held in Little Rock and asked Siegler if she could start the program in Conway.

When she was given the OK, Smith said, she talked to the staff at First United Methodist Church in Conway, who immediately agreed to let her use the church. The first Lunch and Learn was held Oct. 11, and 42 people signed up, she said.

“When we had our first meeting, we already had [speakers] lined up through July,” she said.

Smith said the speakers will address a variety of topics for caregivers.

“We have doctors; we’re hoping to have pharmacists there to talk about new drugs and new drug treatments,” she said.

Melissa Longing of Conway, a member of the Alzheimer’s Arkansas Board of Directors, said she is excited about the Lunch and Learn program.

“That’s something that Conway had been needing, too. We have two support groups that meet, but this is information, so that’s a good thing,” she said.

Longing’s father and mother-in-law died of the disease, and she organized the Faulkner County Alzheimer’s Walk in 2006. It’s so important that these caregivers get a break where they’re not associated with keeping a constant watch,” she said. “Even those who have a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living, they just need a break.”

Smith also organized an Alzheimer’s Arkansas-sponsored paint party for caregivers, and she said people came from Hot Springs and Little Rock, as well as Faulkner County.

“We really didn’t advertise it very much; there’s just such a need for people to get out and be around other people,” she said.

Charlene Hooten, outreach director for Alzheimer’s Arkansas in Little Rock, started the Lunch and Learn program about a year ago in Little Rock.

“The goal is to bring caregivers and professionals together in the same room,” Hooten said. “We get tons of inquiries from caregivers wanting information on services, and sometimes it can be frustrating for them.”

Hooten said, for example, that an employee of the Department of Human Services or Veterans Administration will talk to the caregivers about services and benefits they can get.

“The goal is to help caregivers; that’s our mission,” she said.

Smith said the organization could have made a difference in how she coped with taking care of her mother.

“There is help out there, and there is somebody you can call 24-7. If a caregiver in the middle of the night needs help, they can pick up the phone and talk to an employee who can help,” Smith said.

“It’s such a passion in my heart, and I want people to know there’s help out there. I don’t want people suffering alone, and it’s free — you can’t beat free,” she said.

For more information about the Lunch and Learn program, contact Hooten at charlene.hooten@alzark.org or (501) 224-0021, or visit alzark.org.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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