Training and support groups help caregivers and people living with dementia

Stacy McIntyre and Bonnie Fritz – who run dementia training programs through Golden Horizons Adult Day Care Center – bring both personal empathy and professional advice to caregivers for people living with dementia. 

Dementia trainings for caregivers are provided through grant funding from Bay Area Community Foundation’s Alzheimer’s Fund. The fund was established to assist those who struggle with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The grant covers training and has paid for caregiver resource manuals that are offered to families.

While Golden Horizons receives additional funding from the Region VII Area Agency on Aging to reach caregivers in the community, the Foundation grant supports training for people who do not meet those eligibility requirements, (Learn more about Golden Horizons in this Route Bay City article.)

Since the dementia training project began in 2000, the need has remained steady.

Across the nation, it is estimated that about 5.8 million people have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2060, the number of Alzheimer’s disease is predicted to rise to an estimated 14 million people, with minority populations being affected the most.

In Michigan, about 191,000 people have dementia, according to the Michigan Dementia Coalition. Nearly half a million people in Michigan are informal caregivers for relatives with dementia, the Coalition estimates. 

McIntyre and Fritz understand what the families are experiencing. They’ve each been in the role of family caregiver for a parent.

“I was a mess,”  says Fritz, who is a Licensed Practical Nurse and Dementia Educator for Golden Horizons. “I was crying and I was a mess and I’m supposed to know all this stuff.”

McIntyre, a Licensed Master Social Worker and Program Coordinator at Golden Horizons, agrees. “It’s hard to practice what we preach.”

The dementia training project helps caregivers find better ways to communicate with their loved ones facing dementia. The organizers can provide practical tips through a grant-funded program.Those personal experiences make each woman feel called to help others. In addition to monthly trainings at Golden Horizons, 1001 Marsac St., Fritz also visits senior centers, churches, service clubs, employers, and community groups to detail services available. She takes literature to doctor’s offices so physicians can give pamphlets to people who need them.

The goal is that when people need help, they know where to turn.

The monthly trainings cover topics such as “Communicating Effectively,” “Managing Difficult Behaviors,” “Overview of Alzheimer’s,” and “The Other Dementias.” Fritz says families

Participant questions run the gamut. Fritz says people want to practical advice on how to get their loved ones to shower or change their clothes. Caregivers voice concerns about their lack of patience and frustration levels.

What it comes down to is there’s no cure for dementia. However, Fritz and McIntyre say there are lots of ways to make life with dementia better. 

“There is no one fix-all answer,” Fritz says. 

Instead, Fritz and McIntyre offer advice on reducing caregiver frustration. 
'The people I train, sometimes they cry. I’m always ready with a Kleenex. Sometimes they laugh. I see complete strangers who come into this training, eventually they’re bonding. I’ve had people exchange phone numbers. Then I think, ‘Wow, I’m doing good. I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.’ That’s why I think my training is very important to the area. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.'
– Bonnie Fritz, LPN and Dementia Educator
For example, Fritz reminds caregivers to take slow, deep breaths, but don’t exhale in a huff. She demonstrates and then laughs. A heavy sigh from a child is a surefire way to annoy a parent. She also suggests picking your battles.

“If someone says ‘Gosh, the clouds are green today,’ who cares if they think the clouds are green?” Fritz says. “I’m not going to sit there and argue with you about whether the clouds are green or white or gray. If they think they’re green, let them think they’re green. That’s going to cut down on a lot of the stress you feel.”

McIntyre reminds caregivers to make time for themselves, then uses the example of a man who came to her frustrated that he couldn’t get to the gym. Now he brings his parent to Golden Horizons Adult Day Center every morning so he can go exercise. 

“He has a life,” McIntyre says.

Fritz adds: “That’s an important thing. A caregiver has to have a life outside of just being a caregiver.”

Letting a home health aide handle bath time and hygiene issues can take the pressure off the caregiver. Sending a loved one to a quality day program means the caregiver can relax and not worry about what’s going wrong.

“Part of our job is to encourage people to use these resources,” McIntyre says, adding that she advises people to try things that wouldn’t have worked in the past. “How do you know unless you try? Their family member isn’t the person they used to be.”

Fritz adds the the training sessions provide more than just lectures to families. 

“Dementia training is not just me standing there and spewing a bunch of information at people,” she says. 

Instead, she shares personal stories and hands out materials that people can take home. 

“If somebody just wants to call me and ask a question, I happily take that call,” Fritz adds.

“The people I train, sometimes they cry. I’m always ready with a Kleenex. Sometimes they laugh. I see complete strangers who come into this training, eventually they’re bonding. I’ve had people exchange phone numbers. Then I think, ‘Wow, I’m doing good. I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.’ That’s why I think my training is very important to the area. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.”
Some of the advice is practical and specific. If Dad is eating spaghetti with his hands, Fritz suggests walking over, picking up the fork, and saying “Why don’t you try this?” If that doesn’t work, put the fork in Dad’s hand and guide it to his mouth. 
“You do it discretely,” she says. “It’s not calling attention to the person.”

McIntyre and Fritz each are grateful to the Bay Area Community Foundation for the program. 

“Without that funding, I don’t know what we’d do,” McIntyre says. 
For families living with dementia, help is available:
  • The Caregiver Support Group meets the second Tuesday of each month from 6 to 8 p.m. Registration is required, but you can call (989) 892-6644 or email with any questions.
  • The next Dementia Training class is “The Other Dementias.” It is offered several times including Wed., March 6 from 10 a.m. to noon and Thurs., March 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Golden Horizons, 1001 Marsac St. For those who need a virtual option, the same training is available on Tues., March 5 from 2 to 3 p.m. Call (989) 892-6644 to request the link for the virtual training.
  • The Bay County Department on Aging publishes an online "Guide to Community Resources in Bay County."

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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at