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Rutland Herald: SASH Dementia Workshop Teaches Empathy and Self-Care

By Sophia Buckley-Clement, Rutland Herald

RUTLAND — Area medical practitioners and caregivers gathered at Grace Congregational Church on Thursday morning for a workshop to provide care to individuals with dementia and how to do so with empathy and patience.

The 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. event was organized by the Rutland Housing Authority's Support and Services at Home Program and featured guest speaker Tiney Ray, a Georgia-based nurse practitioner, author and dementia consultant and trainer, sharing what she has learned from her years in the field.

SASH is a statewide wellness initiative that provides support and services for Medicare recipients living independently at home. Participants are put into groups, or panels, based on where they live or their Medicare plan, with each being assigned a coordinator and a wellness nurse who develop a healthy living plan with each participant.

“On my community panel, I’m seeing a lot of mental illness, Alzheimer’s and dementia and there’s not enough resources, and there’s a caregiver shortage. We’re all getting burned out. We have to take care of ourselves to care for others,” said Anna Lang, SASH coordinator for the Rutland Community Panel. “If you understand dementia, if you understand mental illness, you look at it differently. There’s less burnout. You’re able to cope. You’re able to come in and do your job.”

Self-care for practitioners and caregivers was another crucial aspect of Ray’s workshop, which Lang added was a necessary part of this kind of training, especially for a population that is already under so much workforce stress.

Ray, a self-proclaimed “ambassador of self-care,” said that she herself has had moments in her career when she stopped taking care of herself, but that she has now come to realize how her self-care not only benefits her, but also helps her patients.

“In 2017, I wasn’t taking care of myself. Mind you, I’ve been in (the health sector) for 30 years. It was almost like when you go to a provider, and they tell you to stop smoking, but then you see them outside smoking a cigarette. It doesn’t work that way. So, unless we take care of ourselves, nothing is going to be how you want it,” Ray said.

Ray also spoke about the many causes of dementia, including alcoholism, brain injury and undiagnosed mental health issues, the differences between normal aging and abnormal aging and understanding the correlation between dementia and mental health.

“While dementia is commonly associated with cognitive disabilities, it’s not just that. It affects so much more,” Ray said during the workshop. “It affects every aspect of your life, including mental illness. People living with dementia get sad. People living with dementia get anxious when they’re in strange places.”

She added that there are caregivers who ignore related mental health problems in patients with dementia, which ends up lessening the quality of life for these individuals and worsening symptoms.

Additionally, Ray advised that a “person-centered care” approach that addresses a patient’s individual needs is most effective and that sometimes all it takes is patience.

Statewide SASH Director Liz Genge said SASH recently announced it will address this type of mental health discrepancy by adding a mental health clinician to SASH teams across the state this fall, including in Rutland. Sen. Bernie Sanders allocated $1,352,000 of the congressional earmark to expand the mental health program embedded in affordable housing through SASH in partnership with designated community mental health agencies across Vermont.

Lang expressed a huge thank you to SASH’s community partners and the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging, adding that the event wouldn’t have been possible without a grant SASH received from SVCOA for the training.

From 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Ray and the Rutland County SASH team will host a virtual dementia tour at Grace Congregational Church. Those who have signed up will complete a series of tasks while dealing with simulated impairments that reflect what a dementia patient might experience on a given day.

“When you hear (Tiney) speak, it just reminds you of how much power you have already inside of you. Even though it can be overwhelming, you just put one foot in front of the other. You show up. You do your work with kindness and compassion. And then you can go home and take care of yourself,” Genge said.

Read the article on the RutlandHerald.com

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