Flip through the pages of the book about Kelly Ibarra's life and the story line is consistent - she is always serving others. It's her job, it's her life, it's her passion.
But the 42-year-old recently shifted gears into a new position for the Alzheimer's Association of Northern Nevada as Alzheimer's disease outreach coordinator.
She previously worked for Advocates to End Domestic Violence, Ormbsy Advocates for Retarded Citizens and the California Association for Retarded Citizens.
"This is a brand-new position that (the Alzheimer's Association of Northern Nevada) received a grant for," she said. "They've applied for it before, but this time it was granted to fill the position. I am in charge of the rural counties as far as Carson, Douglas, Lyon, Storey and Pershing go. Those are my areas that I cover."
Her primary focus will be to let home caregivers of Alzheimer's patients know that, through a grant funded by the state and federal governments, they can receive up to $1,000 reimbursement annually for respite expenses.
Since she started the job this year, Ibarra estimates 100 people have applied for money. Respite is when caregivers take a break and need to pay someone to
watch their loved one.
"(The grant) can be used where there is a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer's," Ibarra said. "There's no qualifications as far as income goes, which is good because so many programs have guidelines in that area."
One couple who plans to take advantage of the reimbursement are Cheryl Qualls-Silverberg and her husband, David. The Dayton couple recently took in David's 75-year-old mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's nearly two years ago.
"Having a patient with Alzheimer's is very difficult," said Cheryl. "She can't be by herself. It's a 24-hour-a-day thing."
The couple uses respite services several times a month, which can cost about $20 an hour.
"Kelli is a tremendous source," Cheryl said. "She has a lot of first-hand knowledge and pointed us in the right direction. And she speaks from experience because she has a grandmother who has the same disease. She also has a lot of compassion and empathy."
Her mother-in-law's signs of forgetfulness began some time ago, Cheryl said.
"I would take her to the doctor, and we'd get back from the doctor, and she'd ask me if I was going to take her to the doctor that day," Cheryl said. "The part that I noticed really affected was her short-term memory. She talks as though she lives 60 years ago, but she can't remember what she had for breakfast. She eats two breakfasts every day."
Another angle on which Ibarra wants to focus as outreach coordinator is support groups for caregivers. Group meetings are at 1 p.m. the first and third Wednesday of every month at the Carson Senior Citizens Center, 2 p.m. the second Thursday at the Douglas Senior Citizens Center, and 1 p.m. the third Wednesday at the Fernley Senior Citizens Center.
By the start of the new year, Ibarra hopes to establish groups in Yerington, Fallon and Dayton. Ibarra is available 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays at 883-0703. An Alzheimer's Hotline is accessible 24 hours a day at (800) 779-5711.
Ibarra recommends the book "The 36-Hour Day," by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins. It is for sale for $10 at her office and the Carson City Senior Citizens Center in either English or Spanish. She also can loan the book out.
"It's a family guide to caring for people with Alzheimer's disease or related dementia or memory loss," Ibarra said. "It just answers a lot of questions, maybe on moods, maybe on wandering, on medications, or questions to ask your doctors."
A free seminar called "Taking Your Own Pulse and Care for the Caregiver" is scheduled from 1-2 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Carson senior center and 2-3 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Douglas senior center. Call Ibarra if you plan to attend.
Also, a program called Share the Day starting in December at Carson City Senior Citizens Center will allow caregivers to pay someone to watch over the patient at the center. Call Tammy Sisson, executive director of Share the Day, at 284-5505, for more information.
The Carson City Senior Citizens Center, at 911 Beverly Drive, is hosting an open house from 1-5 p.m. Dec. 2. Ibarra will answer questions about Alzheimer's care.
"People need not to be afraid to ask for help," she said. "It's better to ask at the beginning than when they're further down the road in caring. That's why we're here."
n Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at email@example.com or 881-1219.
Ten warning signs of Alzheimer's disease:
• Memory loss
• Difficulty performing familiar tasks
• Problems with language
• Disorientation to time and place
• Poor or decreased judgment
• Problems with abstract thinking
• Misplacing things
• Changes in mood or behavior
• Changes in personality
• Loss of initiative
- Source: Alzheimer's Association
Number of those diagnosed with Alzheimer's in Nevada expected to increase
More than 40,000 elderly in Nevada have Alzheimer's disease, and that number is expected to grow. About 10,000 of those afflicted live in Northern Nevada.
"What's happening nationwide is baby boomers are beginning to age," said Wendy Knorr, regional director for the Alzheimer's Association of Northern Nevada. "That will push the number (of Alzheimer's patients) upward from 4-5 million nationwide to 15-16 million by 2050 if we don't find the way to stop the disease either through a cure or treatments. That's why it's kind of scary, and we are concerned about those numbers. We are pushing hard for an increase in research funding."
Statistics are based on people age 75 or older who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
"One caveat to (those numbers) is Nevada is one of six states that will see its numbers double in the next six to 10 years," she said. "And that's because of the number of retirees moving to the state."
The Alzheimer's Association of Northern Nevada, which was formed in 1992, covers 12 counties. The Alzheimer's Association of Southern Nevada covers the remaining five: Nye, Esmeralda, Lincoln, Clark and Mineral counties.
Knorr said many Alzheimer's diagnoses occur when people are in their early- to mid-70s, but the disease can start earlier. Kelly Ibarra, outreach coordinator for the Alzheimer's Association of Northern Nevada, feels one of the best approaches to treatment is to keep patients at home with loved ones as long as possible.
"My main objective in my job is to keep people in their own home environment as long as they can, so they're not being placed into a residential facility," she said. "I feel that when people are in their own environment, they are more comfortable. They have a better outlook on things when they're in familiar surroundings."
However, that objective is not always feasible, due to medical treatment or burden of care, she explained. November is Alzheimer's Awareness month, which was established in 1983 by former President Ronald Reagan.
"As in any type of disease or illness or cause, I believe (a designated awareness month) lets people be aware there is some help out there and that they're not alone in their venture," Ibarra said. "They need to know that there are people who will support them."
"I always thought Alzheimer's disease was not painful," said Cheryl Qualls-Silverberg of Dayton who, with her husband, David, takes care of his Alzheimer's-diagnosed mother. "It's maybe not painful for the patient, but for the family, it's extremely painful. You're absolutely helpless."
For more information on Alzheimer's Disease, see www.alzheimers.org.
- By Maggie O'Neill