Alicia Dobson/Contributing Writer
Shortly after learning how to manage and cope with her mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s disease, Undergraduate Academic Advisor Marcia Valenzuela noticed similar symptoms emerging in both of her parents.
Feeling frustrated and angry after having to accept and adapt to a very different parent-child relationship, she reached out to Norma Trabanco, a representative and certified Alzheimer’s educator from VITAS Innovative Hospice Care. Much to Valenzuela’s surprise, she found other people at the University with the same issues and concerns.
According to alz.org, the disease can be recognized through 10 early symptoms, including memory loss that disrupts daily functions, a change in personality and confusion with time or place to name a few.
“Being a caregiver made me feel very isolated, as if I was the only one going through this,” she said.
Assuming the responsibility of caring for both of her parents, dozens of questions began to surface. Valenzuela managed to find help through Trabanco.
Trabanco led a support group outside of the University which inspired Valenzuela. She arranged to bring Trabanco and her services to the University, thus starting the Eldercare Support Group atFIU.
The program is new, beginning this past June, and currently has about a dozen loyal participants.
At the group meetings, which take place the last Friday of every month, Trabanco addresses a wide array of questions: Where do I find assisted living facilities? What is Medicaid? What is a hospice? How do I care for my parents when I’m at work or at school?
“[Trabanco] was instrumental in helping me to cope with my mother-in-law’s diagnosis,” said Valenzuela.
In addition to educating its members about Dementia and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, the group provides a welcoming, nonjudgmental and comforting environment for people to discuss similar experiences and frustrations.
“I don’t know where I would be without that lady,” Valenzuela said, referring to Trabanco.
Jose Miranda, a licensed psychologist, was responsible for bringing the pieces of this program together.
Aside from serving the University community through psychoeducational seminars and one-on-one appointments with students, staff, and faculty members, Miranda is diligently working to spread awareness about this support group.
“It allows members to connect with people in similar situations,” Miranda said. “It gives them the resources they need to make caring for a loved one less overwhelming.”
Valenzuela said she has acquired a new and refreshingly positive outlook thanks to Trabanco and the support group.
“I’ve learned to look at this situation as an opportunity to show my love in a sacrificial sort of way—And that love is a deep love,” she said.
Consisting mainly of faculty and staff members, the support group is eager to get students signed up as well.
Miranda, the group’s coordinator, encourages students who are caring for loved ones with any kind of illness or impairment to reach out and get involved.
The next meeting for the Eldercare Support Group is Friday, Sept. 26 in Student Health Services, room 230 from noon to 1 p.m.