By RYOKO NAKAMURA
RAFU JAPANESE STAFF WRITER
“I wasn’t alone. Listening to the experiences of others helped me cope with my wife’s care.” San Fernando Valley resident Hary Nakada started going to one of the caregivers’ support groups organized by the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) after his wife, Helen, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and memory loss in 2007.
“It’s a support group, so we exchange information and share our experiences,” Nakada said. Helen passed away last May, but he still goes to the meeting every month. Just as others have helped him, he believes he can help others.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.4 million people in the United States currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s include memory loss, problems with language, disorientation, impaired judgment, trouble with abstract thinking, changes in mood, behavior and personality, and difficulty performing familiar tasks. This particular constellation of symptoms can impose considerable physical and mental strain on caregivers.
Nearly 15 million Americans, of which 80 percent are family members, provide unpaid care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
LTSC is working with the Alzheimer’s Association of Los Angeles to provide supportive services and assistance for those in the Japanese community who take care of family members and friends with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.
Services range from care management to information and referral. Caregivers receive help locating and accessing resources such as support groups, transportation, adult day care, diagnostic services, a safety bracelet, and assistance with respite and legal services. The support group meetings are held every month at three locations: San Fernando Valley, South Bay, and Little Tokyo.
In the South Bay, Goto and Okawa (who prefer not to provide their first names) have been taking care of their friend who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. “She is originally from Miyazaki prefecture. Except for an older sister in Japan, she has no relatives, so we are very concerned about her well-being,” they said.
They have known her over 10 years. “Last year, she started saying someone had stolen her money. I immediately suspected Alzheimer’s disease,” recalled Goto. They witnessed with dismay as she began forgetting things and getting lost on the way to her best friend’s house.
She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at her routine medical check-up. Goto, Okawa, and some other friends take turns checking on her. They call her to remind her to take medications, accompany her on errands and shopping, and sometimes bring her meals.
But as her condition progressed, it became difficult for them to take care of her by themselves. They called LTSC for assistance, and now their friend receives services from social workers along with the continued care from her friends.
“It could happen to anybody,” Okawa said. She and Goto plan to participate in the South Bay support group meeting to learn more about the disease and share their experiences with other caregivers.
“We went traveling, went shopping, and played mahjong…. She is our best friend. We will do whatever she needs because that’s what friends do, right?” they said.
Nakada believes that there are more individuals out there who may feel isolated and alone as they struggle with daily care for their loved ones. “Come to our meeting. Share your experience. It is a wonderful way to get a little peace of mind.”
LTSC offers free caregivers’ support group meetings at:
*San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, 12953 Brandford St., Pacoima, on the first Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon;
*Victory Fellowship, 4030 Spencer St. #107, Torrance, on the last Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon;
*St. Francis Xavier Chapel, former Maryknoll Catholic Church, 222 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, on the fourth Thursday of every month from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
For more information, call LTSC at (213) 473-3035.