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Need integrated health care focused on brain disorders

Kim Martin

As a result of my two guest columns in The Durango Herald and The Journal about my experiences with Alzheimer’s, I’ve received a multitude of pats on the back, hugs and messages of support from friends, as well as people I hadn’t yet met. A number of folks with dementia and their caretakers came to our home and sat at our dining room table to connect. I think some found relief with kindred spirits. It has been heartening beyond words, and I thank each of you who have sent us love and support.

I wonder, though, if my intent in writing has been overshadowed by my personal story. To be clear, I’ve wanted to put a face on a disease that affects more than a thousand residents in this area. Based on feedback, that was effective, but my overriding goal is to raise awareness about this disease that has no cure and, for many, carries with it dread and avoidance.

Make no mistake, at times I am overwhelmed with grief, as well as fearful about my future and that of my caretaker husband. My personal reaction has been to become a spokesperson, but I respect those who have chosen different ways of dealing. Each of us with the disease, as well as our caretakers, have to choose our own comfortable path.

Even so, many of us in La Plata County have dementia of one kind or another. Our community might be well-served by all of us getting more comfortable with and knowledgeable about the disease.

And since our numbers are growing, maybe we can do better than just having raised consciences. People ask me: “How can I support you? What do you need?” I actually do have a response. Help me by supporting our community of folks with the disease, their caretakers and those in the helping professions.

What specifically do we need? More than anything, we need to bring integrated health care to our community, which focuses, primarily – if not exclusively – on brain disorders as well as other needs specific to seniors. Do you realize, we don’t have a geriatrics doctor practicing in the area? Some of us go to Denver to visit doctors. I go to Scottsdale. Thankfully, we can afford to.

Some of you may empathize with my frustration in keeping track of my many dissociated portals and instructions. Aside from Alzheimer’s, I am a very healthy 70 year old, but I have six or more portals because every office has its own. I don’t look at them because I can’t keep track or make sense of it all. I can’t even remember where I keep my pickleball paddle, yet I’m expected to be able to figure out what vaccinations and medical tests I’ve received? I truly understand why so many give up on taking care of their medical needs altogether. More than once, I’ve gone to bed and cried from frustration and exhaustion. I know I’m not alone in doing this.

More than 100 La Plata County residents have already joined forces to solve our community’s deficiencies. Durango Dementia Coalition, headed by Pat Demarest, includes a number of caretakers, professionals and a few of us with dementia. We’ve made good progress in creating a current resource list, and connecting health agencies and interested individuals. Still, we have an arduous journey ahead.

We are hopeful we can attract a physician, clinical psychologist and social worker, who will prioritize integrated and continuous health care for dementia patients and their caretakers. Perhaps you have suggestions or would like to join us. If so, please email, Ddc81301@gmail.com.

Kim Martin splits her time between Hesperus and Durango, and is a former instructor of Asian history, writing and comparative cultures at Fort Lewis College.