Alzheimer’s conference set for Aug. 16-18

Published 12:28 am Monday, August 7, 2017

By Lyndy Berryhill

NATCHEZ — In an effort to provide the latest information about Alzheimer’s to area health professionals, caregivers and family members of people with the disease, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health is hosting the 18th annual Alzheimer’s Conference for the second year in a row in Natchez.

The conference, which is open to the public, will be Aug. 16-18 at the Natchez Convention Center.

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For conference chair Kathy Van Cleve, the duty of providing information is personal.

“For 19 years, on one side of my family, we dealt with Alzheimer’s disease,” Van Cleve said.

Van Cleve’s grandmother cared for her sister, Van Cleve’s great aunt, as the disease progressed. Eventually, her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimers herself.

Van Cleve was a long-distance caregiver, who provided support throughout her school years. Van Cleve still wears a piece of her grandmother’s extensive costume jewelry collection to the conference every year.

“It reminds of why we do what we do every day,” Van Cleve said.

Currently, an estimated 53,000 people in Mississippi have Alzheimer’s.

It is estimated that by 2025 that number will grow to approximately 65,000, a 22.6-percent increase statewide.

Van Cleve said her heart just jumped when she got the opportunity to work with Alzheimers awareness and education.

Once she started working with organizing the conference, Van Cleve asked her grandfather if she could ever talk publicly about her grandmother’s illness.

He told Van Cleve, if she truly thought it could help someone else, then she could.

Van Cleve has worked for the Mississippi Department of Mental Health since fall 2003.

“I’ve been talking about their experience ever since,” Van Cleve said.

She still gets choked up talking about what it feels like to care for an Alzheimer’s patient. She knows the “feeling of defeat” that can encompass caregivers as their loved one gradually forget who and where they are.

“There are times when you really feel by yourself,” Van Cleve said.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in Mississippi as well as in America, statistics from the Alzheimers Association show.

“We are still battling the stigma of the disease,” Van Cleve said.

Some people who notice symptoms in themselves are afraid of losing their job, home or independence if they come forward for treatment.

“Every person goes through this disease differently,” Van Cleve said.

The conference will feature a variety of vendors and information on the disease, which focuses on how to enrich the lives of people living with dementia, but also their respective caregivers and family members.

Healthcare professionals will also showcase what the state has to offer in mental healthcare for people diagnosed with Alzheimers and other types of dementia.

One workshop will feature music and memory and highlight how they are being used to help dementia patients.

The conference is open to the public, who may register in advance or pay at the door.

Early registration fee is $125 and includes a breakfast. Early registration ends Friday. Afterward, registration is $135 at the door.

Students, senior adults and caregivers can attend at a special rate of $75.Van Cleve said 95 percent of what is known about treating the disease has been learned in the past 15 years.

She said, aside from quickly finding a cure, it is important to address those who have it now.

This event has attracted as many as 700 attendees in the past. Van Cleve said they are expecting in between 200 and 300 people.

“Whoever comes were going to have a great time,” Van Cleve said.