YMCA program will assist early-stage Alzheimer’s patients

MARQUETTE – Those suffering from early-stage Alzheimer’s could have somewhere to turn for education – as well as a sense of relief and community – under a new program being piloted by the YMCA of Marquette County.

The inaugural 16-week session of LIVEWISE, a program organized by the YMCA, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Marquette General Hospital Brain and Spine Center and Lake Superior Hospice, kicks off Jan. 15.

“It’s a way to give people an opportunity to take some control over their health, and get them information – and their families information – early in the process of having this disease,” said Ruth Almen, the regional director for the Upper Peninsula office of the Alzheimer’s Association.

LIVEWISE will include up to 10 patients, who – along with a caregiver – will meet twice each week.

Almen said that, while enrolled in LIVEWISE, patients will have access to “the best the Y has to offer,” including exercise classes and individualized workouts, in addition to classes and education.

The group will learn about the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and what to expect moving forward, and will take classes detailing pain and fatigue, as well as grief management. Additional meetings will focus on legal issues, healthy eating and cooking.

According to Almen the most basic goal of the program is that patients and caregivers leave the YMCA in four months with less anxiety, more knowledge and a feeling of control.

“We’re hoping people’s quality of life will improve,” she said. “We’re hoping people will feel people feel like they have more choices and control.”

Those behind LIVEWISE will also be looking routinely at the program’s impact, both physically and emotionally. The pilot program will allow an exploration of the established links between mental and physical well-being and may, in a perfect world, delay the progression of the disease, according to Lisa Coombs Gerou, CEO of the YMCA of Marquette County.

“What’s happened is exercise and nutrition have played a bigger role in prevention and reclaiming health,” she said. “Chronic disease management and chronic disease prevention is a way the Y is going to be moving.”

In addition to seeing medical advances, Almen said she is hoping to see a new community emerge from the program.

When she heard how cancer patients came together in the YMCA’s Livestrong program, Almen began talking with Coombs Gerou about utilizing the same type of program for Alzheimer’s patients.

“Those folks naturally formed a community, right there, together,” Almen said. “They formed their own community and support system.”

LIVEWISE will utilize similar tools and metrics as Livestrong and Almen said she wanted to focus not only on the patients, but on their loved ones.

“People give up their lives to care for a person with Alzheimer’s,” she said. “When that person is gone, they have nothing. It is so important that people continue to keep their lives.”

At this point, the program is being funded in part by the Alzheimer’s Association and by MGH. Coombs Gerou said that she would like to be able to locate outside funding in order to offer the program free-of-charge in the future.

Almen said she is looking forward to hearing anecdotal reports from LIVEWISE and being able to evaluate the results. In the future, she said, she would like to see the program expand beyond Marquette.

“I would love to see it be successful here and feel like we’ve had some positive impact,” she said. “And I’d like to see us be able to move it to other locations in the Upper Peninsula, certainly.”

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.