Denise Lefaiver’s mother used to regularly attend programs and take part in trips through the Cranston Enrichment Center.
Then, four years ago, she started to become forgetful. She would drive to City Hall, thinking she needed to pay her taxes, and find herself in the mayor’s office or another department.
Thankfully, Lefaiver said, family members and friends at City Hall were able to help in those cases. But her mother needed more care – and finding resources and support as a caregiver was essential.
Lefaiver said she found both through with the help of the city, the Hope Alzheimer’s Center and the Rhode Island chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Her mother now lives at her home, and the community that exists around issues of memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease has proven invaluable.
“There are so many resources out there as a caregiver … Somebody who’s already gone through it has already done the footwork,” she said.
Lefaiver spoke June 13 at the Cranston Enrichment Center as part of a press conference held to highlight the city’s observance of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and its new collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Association.
“We’re going to continue to work together to educate, inform and bring awareness to the greater community on how to identify resources available to them to fight Alzheimer’s, dementia and any other type of memory loss,” Mayor Allan Fung said during the conference.
Last year, the city’s Department of Senior Services received a $10,000 grant from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation’s Momentum Fund to focus on increasing the community’s “awareness and understanding of memory loss and aging, normal cognitive decline with the aging process, cognitive impairment, mild or moderate to serve Alzheimer’s disease, and other related dementias.”
The overall aim of the initiative is to foster a community-wide environment in which people with mild memory-loss or cognitive issues can remain active and independent.
Donna McGowan, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Rhode Island chapter, said her organization is “proud to be partnering with the city of Cranston.”
“We at the organization are just so excited about the potential and the possibilities … It is through relationships like these that we are able to reach more individuals in our communities and assist those in need,” she said.
McGowan said she views Cranston’s approach to memory loss awareness provides a “wonderful model to replicate and take all over the state of Rhode Island.” The hope, she said, is to create similar partnerships with other cities and towns across the state.
“Our vision is to live in a world without Alzheimer’s,” she said. “Probably not in my generation, not in my children’s, but I’m praying, and I’m working very diligently, so that my grandchildren do not have to deal with this terrible disease.”
Ellen Grizzetti, director of the Hope Alzheimer’s Center, noted that her organization was created with the help of the city. She specifically mentioned the administrations of Fung and former mayor Michael Traficante.
Grizzetti spoke of the role the center plays in assisting those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. She spoke of the “magic” that occurs when someone with the disease attends the center’s programs and becomes a part of its community.
“I’ve watched this magic for 25 years, and it’s been a great blessing in my life,” she said.
Jeffrey Barone, director of the Department of Senior Services, said the city’s collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Association “demonstrates the type of partnership that we can all be proud of.” He said municipalities can “act as a conduit” to foster awareness and connect community members with resources.
Barone praised Maria Rondeau, health programs and grants coordinator at the Cranston Enrichment Center, for her “very inspirational” work on the Tufts grant and memory loss issues. He also lauded Assistant Director David Quiroa, social services director Jennifer Kevorkian and Adult Day Services case manager Doreen Montaquila for their efforts.
“We have a lot of things planned for the rest of this year,” he said, adding that the Department of Senior Services hopes to receive additional funding through the Tufts grant in October.
During the conference, Kevorkian noted that she is a caregiver and called the cause “near and dear to my heart.” She noted that the Cranston Enrichment Center, as part of the initiative funded through the Tufts grant, has developed informational materials and held presentations at locations around the city.
The center has hosted town hall meetings on memory loss issues, and will host a Dementia Friendly Community Series in the weeks ahead.
The sessions will be held on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m., and include “Memory Loss: The Basics” on July 9, followed by “Medically Caused Dementia” on July 23. “Dementia & Hearing Loss” will be held Aug. 6, and the series concludes with “A Caregiver’s Journey” on Aug. 20.
Kevorkian is also coordinating the new, monthly Care to Connect Café program at the center, which is designed as a chance for caregivers to connect with one another, share resources and provide support.
Fung said as part of the Alzheimer’s Awareness Month observance, he will sign an executive order asking the Department of Senior Services to create a committee tasked with developing a “comprehensive plan” for memory loss awareness efforts. He said he is also designating the rest of the Fridays in June as dress-down days for city employees as part of a fundraising effort for the Alzheimer’s Association.
To learn more about the Cranston Enrichment Center and the initiative, visit cranstonseniorcenter.com.