I’m sure it’s happened to most of us before. You walk purposefully to a particular room in the house, intent on retrieving something. However, when you get there you suddenly can’t recall what you wanted in the first place. Easiest solution is go go back to the starting point to trigger the memory. Problem solved. But for some people it is no longer that easy. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia which involves increasing memory loss. There is no cure for the disease. It is a topic which has not received much attention on the island, but Regina Posvar is seeking to change that.
Posvar is a registered practical nurse, with experience in psychiatric and mental health behaviour. It is a field which allows her to do what she loves best, which is interacting with people and seeing how they respond to each other. Alzheimer’s care was not on the agenda but a sticky situation led her down that path.
In Oregon, if a child is left past time at daycare, the parent is deemed unfit. In the same state, as a nurse, if you leave your floor without nursing coverage you lose your license. As a single parent, Posvar once found herself between the proverbial rock and hard place. Fearful of a recurrence she sought the advice of the nursing board. They suggested working for an assisted living facility. It was just what she needed.
“I went there and that’s where I learned about Alzheimer’s and just fell in love with it. So I focused most of my nursing career on working with the elderly. I became the director of the unit, the facility, and just started learning more about it and helping the patients as well as the family associated with it.”
She continued in her position for thirteen years until recently coming to the island to join her new husband, who is in the midst of a work contract. Realizing the lack of support and resources for Alzheimer’s patients, Posvar set about to put her skills to use. It has not been without challenges.
“I came here last August and what we had found through the people we met, just friends and associates, that people here do have Alzheimer’s but when I went to the nursing board to transfer the license they don’t recognize my license for one. But I did get registered as a nursing assistant so I thought maybe I could work as a caregiver and help out that way. Well they don’t have Alzheimer’s areas. They have people with Alzheimer’s and some dementias in these places but nothing is really designed for their specific needs. So that was quite alarming for me.”
Encouraged by people who were struggling with the disease and the deleterious effects on their families, she started volunteering her time and eventually started support meetings, modelled after those held in the US and UK.
“I do them once a month and it’s just a twenty to thirty minute presentation of education about what Alzheimer’s is and what to expect and the cry for caregivers to really seek help, because there’s also statistics that the caregivers are passing before the people with Alzheimer’s, related to stress involved. People just don’t know where to go. It’s in the US too. It’s not just here. So the more of these meetings that I’ve had, I receive lots of phone calls (from) people who are looking for help.”
Posvar says that the rate of Alzheimer’s cases is no higher in St Lucia than anywhere else and she attributes that to good dietary habits.
“I think the good thing about St Lucia is that not everything is processed here. Some of these countries where the increase is higher, in my opinion it seems that their dietary habits are different. Although a lot of foods were brought in here, most of the natural foods are organic and so the soil isn’t contaminated and you guys don’t cook on a lot of aluminium here. So you have a normal rate for the population.”
That is no reason to rest on our laurels. She did point out that every four seconds someone around the world is being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and that is pretty alarming for this small country. And it is not just the victim who is affected.
“The families are the ones that are suffering with it as well because they don’t know how to cope with it. I believe the fear of it causes us as humans to kind of keep it away from the public. We don’t want to talk about it, we’re afraid we’re going to get it ourselves and so we isolate ourselves, our loved ones and then our stress. Here we are trying to work, take care of our own families and our loved one at the same time. So it compounds a lot of things.”
Posvar helps to work through the confusion during the support meetings at Eden and Herbs in Rodney Bay on the second Saturday of the month at 4 pm. She also tries to hold events in different areas to reach as many people as possible. It is a tough road to navigate and Posvar has encountered the usual red tape associated with attempting to engage government ministries, leading her to conclude that it is not considered a priority. Despite the indifference from the powers that be, she continues to persevere and wants the public to follow suit.
“There are signs to look for. You need to keep a good record and talk to your family about it and your friends saying ‘this is what I’m concerned about’ and then go to the doctors. And then some doctors will say this is just old age. Be persistent. The doctors only know what to do according to what you give them. Make it clear that you’re concerned about this so that they can keep a record. And just a one time visit is not going to diagnose you with Alzheimer’s. It takes a process. It could be a different disease that is treatable and reversible.”
But if someone is diagnosed with the disease, it is important to show compassion and not frustration.
“We have to change the way we behave towards them because a lot of them have agitation, very challenging behaviours that we don’t know how to manage. And you don’t want to just drug them up. Everyone wants to connect and that’s what we’re losing as our identity with this disease.”
For more information contact Posvar at Angelsatthewest@outlook.com