By Ellen Nason
(Note: This is the second in a series of videos and articles profiling the three winners of this year’s $350,000 Humana Communities Benefit grants.)
Those with Alzheimer’s face a long, lonely and uncertain journey, often falling into deep depression as the disease robs them of their memories and independence. The sense of loss and severed connections takes a profound and devastating physical and emotional toll on those battling the disease as well as their family and caregivers.
Joyce Hernandez, a professional caregiver for a man with Alzheimer’s, was struggling to understand the baffling and heart-breaking stages of the progressive disease. Her intense focus on improving the quality of his life, made her lose sight of the physical and emotional toll that the disease was having on her and her loved ones. Her need to understand what her client was going through led her to mmLearn.org, where she found the help they both needed.
The program was created in 2007 by San Antonio nonprofit Morningside Ministries, which recently was named one of three winners of a $350,000 Humana Communities Benefit grant. In keeping with Morningside Ministries’ mission to “care for those who cared for us,” mmLearn.org offers free online training and support to those who are caring for older adults.
“I had no idea there were so many free videos to view … from learning how to use a walker to Alzheimer’s… it’s endless,” said Hernandez, who sees the fact that the on-demand training is always available as particularly important for caregivers who may need help in the middle of the night or have severe time constraints.
She said Alzheimer’s education offered by mmLearn.org helped her realize that she could best help her client by “going into his world,” rather than struggling for answers during some of the more frustrating times, such as when he would ask to go home although he was sitting in his home. She said the video helped reopen communication and brought comfort and relief to both of them.
It also helped her recognize her own emotional trauma and growing depression as she cared for her client around the clock, not trusting others to care for him as well as she would.
“I cared so much … but I began to withdraw from my own family and friends,” she said. “My husband expressed concerns so I went to the website and looked up caregiver stress. I realized that I had all the symptoms.
“Without the videos, I wouldn’t have known I needed help … I needed to take care of myself,” she added. Even though it was the hardest thing she ever had to do, she had to step away to regain her own health. Another caregiver is now working with the client with Alzheimer’s but Hernandez stays in contact with him while working as a caregiver for others.
“I am happy and found peace,” said Hernandez. “My family is happy to have me back. This program has had a big impact in my life. It has been truly a blessing.”
“mmLearn.org is our way of serving the caregiver,” said Alvin Loewenberg, President and CEO of Morningside Ministries, a nonprofit founded in San Antonio, Texas, in 1961 that offers facilities for older adults seeking independent living, skilled nursing, assisted living and rehabilitation.
“The real mission is to make life better” for people, said Loewenberg. With mmLearn.org, a program that includes 300 topics and has already been used by people in 98 countries, caregivers are given the tools and resources to help older adults stay in their own home longer and be cared for properly, he added.
Loewenberg said it is an honor to receive the grant from the Humana Foundation, which offers an opportunity for the nonprofit to continue broadening its reach.
“It’s a great opportunity for mmLearn.org and a great gift to the community,” he said, adding that the grant allows the nonprofit to do much more to make a real difference in people’s lives.