• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Improving relationships when facing dementia

An upcoming free educational program at Versailles United Methodist Church will inform attendees about how they can enhance their relationships with loved ones diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Families, friends and caregivers can all benefit from what they'll learn while attending "An Introduction to the Best Friends Approach to Memory Care," according to speaker Tonya Cox, executive director of the Homeplace at Midway. "It's a simple but very effective approach," said Cox, who has co-authored two books on the "Best Friends" approach. "It helps you better relate to a person with dementia by using better communication skills and different tactics to build your relationship - and they're all rooted in the concept of friendship," she explained. Best Friends founder Virginia Bell pioneered this approach to memory care when she came to understand that people faced with dementia "just needed good relationships to help them on their journey," said Cox. She became a trainer of this approach to memory care after being mentored by Bell while on the staff of the Best Friends Day Center in Lexington. Her staff at the Homeplace receives training to use the "Best Friends" approach to care giving "because it works and enhances the quality of life for people with dementia," Cox said. "It's gone from being a really small idea to having a global impact because it's simple and easy to use. But it really helps folks that struggle with their relationships with folks who have dementia," said Cox. She has led hundreds of sessions all across the country on the Best Friends approach, which also helps a caregiver "find the positive in something that can be very difficult and very heartbreaking," said Cox. Her own path to working in senior care for the last 22 years began while growing up in a family with a grandmother who had Alzheimer's disease. She only wishes her family was able to benefit from the "Best Friends" approach to memory care. "Oftentimes, people come into caregiving relationships very unprepared," explained Cox. "And so part of what I try to do in the presentation is just to give (caregivers) a few tools to kind of help make that (relationship) better for everybody" - no matter where a person happens to be "on their disease journey." Everyone attending "An Introduction to the Best Friends Approach to Memory Care" on Monday, June 19, beginning at 6:30 in the fellowship hall of Versailles United Methodist Church at 110 North Main Street, will also receive a list of resources so they can access publications and websites and professionals for additional information. The upcoming "Introduction to the Best Friends Approach" continues a series of educational programs sponsored by the mental health awareness ministry at Versailles United Methodist (VUM) Church, which began in 2013. VUM Church has hosted programs for first-responders to help them become better prepared to deal with individuals who have mental health issues, while other programs were open to the general public for discussions on mental illnesses, mood disorders and suicide prevention. "We're just trying to bring education to the community," said Diane Gnau, "because we have found that - even in the churches - people don't talk about mental illness. People don't ask for prayer. You just kind of sit there alone." Gnau, whose mom has Alzheimer's disease, and others serving on the mental health awareness ministry team at VUM Church have all faced mental illness in their families. "We're all learning as we go ... with our loved ones," she said.

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