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Spotlight: Alzheimer’s Association (Greater Michigan Chapter)

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month! We’re excited to speak with Michelle Phalen, Program Coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association (Greater Michigan Chapter). The Alzheimer’s Association offers a broad range of free programs and services, funding for Alzheimer’s and dementia research, and advocacy efforts on behalf of Michiganders. 

AOTC: If you had to give an “elevator speech” about what your organization does, how would you describe it? 

Michelle Phalen: The Alzheimer’s Association leads the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. We are investing over $250 million in more than 650 research projects in 36 countries, and we work with lawmakers at each level of government and advocate for the rights of all those affected by dementia. Our education programs, 24/7 Helpline, and other services aim to raise awareness of dementia and help all those affected. 

AOTC: Walk me through the step-by-step process. What happens when you get a phone call/referral? 

MP: When someone calls the 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900), they speak to a specialist who will answer any questions they have about dementia, share resources, or register the caller for a program. Our Helpline is available in over 200 languages, and we have a service for those with hearing loss. 

If the caller would like a list of resources in their local community (i.e. neurologist, elder law attorneys, care options, etc.), the Michigan Chapter will follow up with the caller to provide the needed resources and answer additional questions. 

If the caller needs assistance regarding a more complex dementia-related issue, the caller will be transferred to a Master’s-level clinician for additional guidance. These clinicians are available 24/7. 

If the caller needs more individualized help, they can enroll in the Care Consultation Program. In the Care Consultation Program, a caregiver/family virtually meets with a local Alzheimer’s Association social worker to complete a care needs assessment, create an individualized plan of care, and connect to local resources. The Care Counselor will continue to follow up with the caregiver over a period of a few weeks or months. 

AOTC: What organizations do you work closely with? 

MP: The Alzheimer’s Association aims to build relationships with organizations throughout communities because we know the best way to reach people affected by dementia is to meet them where they are. We connect with long-term care communities, senior centers, libraries, companies and other organizations throughout the state to reach anyone affected by dementia. We have strong partnerships with research institutions, including the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Wayne State University’s Institute of Gerontology. We also receive referrals from Dr. Aishah Raffee at IHA Senior Health so those diagnosed with a form of dementia know where to turn for help. Nationally, the Alzheimer’s Association has many partnerships, including a partnership with the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. 

AOTC: What are some things you wish the public knew about your role? 

MP: Many people are only familiar with one aspect of the Alzheimer’s Association. They may think of us as an organization solely focused on research, or they may only know of our Walk to End Alzheimer’s, but we have a comprehensive mission and offer an array of services. Many families say, “I felt so alone as a dementia caregiver. Where were these services when I was providing care?” I want everyone affected by dementia to know they can turn to the Association for help. We offer a 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900) with an information and referral service, as well as education programs, support groups, social engagement programs and many more resources, all completely free. 

AOTC: What tips do you have for someone with a loved one that’s going through this issue/needs assistance? 

MP: Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have a stigma, but we need to remember these are brain diseases, not disgraces. Often because of this stigma, caregivers and people living with dementia are hesitant to ask for help, but we all need to remember that it is okay and necessary to ask for help. Because Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are progressive diseases, eventually, it is impossible for one person to manage all caregiving responsibilities. I encourage caregivers to ask for help sooner rather than later. Caregivers can ask family members and friends for assistance, or they can call the 24/7 Helpline to be connected to care options in their community. We also have respite care scholarships available for residents of Washtenaw County and other select counties. Additionally, it is important to learn as much as you can about dementia. If you are aware of the changes that happen throughout the disease, you can be better prepared to manage things such as changes in communication and challenging behaviors. Our education programs and online resources are great tools. 

AOTC: Is there anything you would like to add? 

MP: Many of our services are made for caregivers and families, but we also have information and support services for people living with dementia. We offer a support group for individuals with early-stage dementia, and we have online tools to help navigate changes. Regardless of the stage of dementia, it is important for the person to continue to connect with others and be engaged in their environment. The Alzheimer’s Association offers interactive, fun, dementia-friendly activities for people living with dementia and their families. Visit our website at alz.org/gmc to learn more about our activities with our partners, including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Henry Ford Museum, Detroit Zoo, Detroit Institute of Arts, and more! 

To help us continue providing our services, consider participating in the Longest Day! The Longest Day is the day with the most light — the summer solstice. On June 20, people from across the world will fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through a fundraising activity of their choice. Although we celebrate this event on June 20, you can complete your activity any time of the year! Whether you’re participating at home, online, or in-person, we have plenty of fun ideas to engage family and friends in The Longest Day. Learn more at alz.org/longestday

Thank you so much Michelle for sharing these excellent resources provided by the Alzheimer’s Association! To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association, visit their website at alz.org/gmc.  

Visit the Ahead of the Curve Senior Resource Directory to learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia resources in your community. 

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Our easy to use and regularly updated resource directory is a one-stop guide to older adult services in Washtenaw County.