A new program offers help for caregivers of people with Alzheimer's and other dementia.

A new program offers help for caregivers of people with Alzheimer's and other dementia.

The STAR-C program is designed to help overwhelmed in-home family caregivers who are dealing with their loved ones' frustrating and challenging behaviors, said Carol Terry, regional coordinator.

The free program, developed at the University of Washington and offered through the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, helps lower depression in caregivers and decrease problem behavior in the person with dementia, she said.

"If we make their lives better, it helps the caregiver," Terry said.

One of six local consultants meets with the qualified caregiver and the patient during eight home visits. During their sessions, the consultant and the caregiver focus on ways to reduce depression and anxiety and resolve or improve issues related to sleep, resistance to care, wandering, verbal or physical aggression and social isolation, Terry said.

Caregivers' intuition and historical knowledge of the patient are as vital to making the program a success as the training of the consultants, said Marya Kain, program coordinator.

"Each person is different," Kain said. "We can be the dementia experts. But we're not the experts on that human being."

Helpful tools include understanding the limitations dementia can place on cognitive understanding and learning how best to work through "stuck" behaviors, she said.

"We talk a lot about depression and creating pleasant events," Terry said, adding making lists of things the person used to like to do can be helpful in decreasing their anxiety.

"Many people can't verbalize what they like anymore," she said.

Kain cites a situation in which insights helped a couple deal with the wife's father, who suffered from dementia.

Each night, the couple returned home from work exhausted and wanted nothing more than to plop down in front of their television. But each night, that scenario devolved into a stressful series of interruptions by the wife's father, who would stand in front of the television, demanding help finding a series of "missing" items.

From shoes to socks to flashlights, each time the man was reassured his items were not, in fact, missing, there was some new problem. And the anger and frustration of the couple and the man only intensified as the evening wore on.

"Finally, it would get everybody really aggravated," Kain said. "But it didn't change the behavior. So is it really the flashlight? Or is it an underlying need?"

Consultants were able to help the couple see that their aging parent, who was home alone during the day, was actually lonely and attempting to get attention. But he no longer had the ability to express that need in a way that a typical adult might, she said.

"He ended up getting that attention," Kain said. "But not in a way that feels good to either of them."

New strategies were put in place, and now the father helps his daughter begin preparing dinner. And then he plays a round of pool with his son-in-law while she cooks. When they do plop down on the couch to watch television, all three enjoy the shows.

"Dad would join in to watch, instead of interrupting," Kain said.

This fix may seem simple. But the complex dynamics of caregiving can change relationships between parent and child or husband and wife. It can create stress when both parties are fully cognitive. But it can be particularly challenging when people are providing care for someone they love, who is now dealing with dementia, Kain said.

A dementia consultant, combined with the insights of a loved one, can help ease everyone's lot, she said.

"Some of these stories are so painful," Kain said. "But you have to meet someone where they are."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.