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Specialist works with families affected by Alzheimer’s

Living or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be just as confusing and stressful for the person doing the caring as those suffering from the disease.

Why are they so irritable? What do you say if you upset them? What do you say or not say to not upset them in the first place? Do you go along and pretend what they’re saying makes sense?

All important questions, and all the subject of Jess Steinbrenner’s presentation on Understanding Communication and Challenging Behaviors with Alzheimer’s Disease. Steinbrenner is the program manager with the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota and North Dakota.

While Steinbrenner has only been with the Alzheimer’s Association for a year and a half, she’s dealt with Alzheimer’s most of her life.

“I come by the job pretty naturally because Alzheimer’s Disease is something that has affected my family, personally,” she said.

She said she grew up on a farm in North Dakota with her grandparents. She was close to her grandfather, who served as her daycare provider in her young years, and while she was in high school, he developed Alzheimer’s. He died of the disease when she was in college.

“Back then, in the rural areas, there was no Alzheimer’s Association presence. We didn’t have education or support about what was going with him,” she said. “Because of that, it was an exceptionally difficult process, especially for my grandmother. We actually ended up losing her before him because of caregiver depression.”

The passion for her work now comes from that background.

So Steinbrenner works one-on-one with families who are dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, and she goes out to communities to host informational seminars on the it, similar to the one she will be presenting in Detroit Lakes on Nov. 5.

She also trains professional staff in different settings to work with and care for Alzheimer’s patients.

For the Detroit Lakes Community Education class she will be presenting, Steinbrenner will talk about communicating with those suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

She plans to teach about the parts of the brain affected by the disease, what those parts of the brain control in one’s body and the ways the rest of us can adapt our communication style to support those with the disease.

“It’s for any community members,” she said of the class. “If we stop and think about it, we all know people in our lives that are living with Dementia.

“One of my goals in these rural areas is how we can rally to support individuals that live within our communities and their caregivers.”

In her work, she said one of the biggest things she hears from families with Alzheimer’s is that family and friends stop coming to visit because they aren’t sure anymore how to interact with those with Alzheimer’s. They worry about saying something that could be upsetting or awkward.

Her hope is to provide a means to overcome those obstacles and ease the process.

“When your friends stop showing up, that can be isolating. So hopefully this will give people some tools and increase the comfort level.”

She said the communications class is a popular one because so many people are interested to learn about the parts of the brain affected and how it affects loved ones.

The numbers of individuals with Alzheimer’s is “skyrocketing” due to the baby boomers becoming that age of when Alzheimer’s starts to show, and those numbers are just going to continue to increase.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, and in 2013, Alzheimer’s will cost the nation $203 billion. This number is expected to rise to $1.2 trillion by 2050.

And that’s just for those with the disease.

In 2012, 15.4 million caregivers provided more than 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $216 billion.

Steinbrenner’s session in November will provide an overview of services in the area available to those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. There will also be time for questions that evening.

The community education class is Tuesday, Nov. 5, from 4:30-6 p.m. in the Lincoln Education Center, room 108. There is no fee for the class.

Call Detroit Lakes Community Education at 847-4418 to register.

To contact Jess Steinbrenner with any Alzheimer’s related questions, call her at 218-998-3603 or e-mail her at

A 24-hour helpline can be accessed at 800-272-3900. For more information on Alzheimer’s, visit

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.