Compassion is abundant on Alzheimers Help-Line

Volunteers/Where good neighbors get together

February 19, 1991|By Ellen Hawks | Ellen Hawks,Evening Sun Staff

FIVE VALUED volunteers were honored recently by th Alzheimers Association's Baltimore/Central Maryland Chapter.

All but one of the five answer the association's Help-Line, offering care-givers of Alzheimers victims a compassionate ear and information about services available to them.

''This is a line for care-givers, answered by those who are or have been care-givers,'' says Cass Naugle, the association's executive director.

The four Help-Line honorees were Pat Borleis, Norma Halfpenny, Jane R. Uhlig and Tom Wheatley.

The exception was the very special 92-year-old Goldie F. Levin, who for six years has conscientiously acknowledged all memorial and tribute donations to the association. A member of her family has Alzheimers.

Alzheimers is a progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain and impairs memory, thinking and behavior. Approximately 4 million Americans have Alzheimers.

There is no cure, and since it occurs most in those over age 65 and because so many people are living more than 80 years, it is estimated that by 2040 some 12- to 14-million people will be afflicted with the disease.

Care-givers for the person with Alzheimers disease face the constant care of someone who probably will deteriorate for the rest of his life.

Consequently, these care-givers need much support and help. ''Some folks just want to talk and release some of the tension that builds up, especially when they are caring for a loved one,'' says Halfpenny, whose husband has Alzheimers. She has answered the Help-Line for four years.

Borleis, 63, whose mother has it, is a board member of the association and has been a volunteer for nine years. ''On the phone, we hear and we learn. Most callers want support rather than direct help,'' she says.

''It seems to me the main thing is to approach them wherever they are in this situation and not overwhelm them with facts they are not ready for, yet to work toward their understanding and eventual acceptance of things as they are,'' says Uhlig, 77, whose late husband had Alzheimers. She has volunteered for eight months.

Tom Wheatley, 60, answers the Help-Line because a family member has the disease and he wants to help. ''Every situation is special, and that's what makes it interesting and rewarding,'' he says.

The association was established here in 1979 and has 700 members (membership dues are $10 and up) plus 100 volunteers who answer the telephones, work in the office, answer mail, do mailings, acknowledge memorial gifts and more.

Services include a care-givers' program that provides financial assistance for respite care, which helps families caring for any functionally disabled individual who needs personal care, plus supervision and help with chores.

The association is involved in legislation affecting the older population, in education, family support, nursing home and patient care. It offers autopsy assistance and has a speakers bureau.

Volunteers are needed for many areas: in the office, mailing, data entry, working on fund-raisers, helping man exhibits at health fairs ''and anyone who may have a unique skill that can contribute to this effort,'' says Naugle.

There are support groups all over Maryland for care-givers of people with Alzheimers. For information about these groups or any other information, call the Alzheimers Association's

Help-Line at 435-4933 in Baltimore or 1-800-443-CARE for other Maryland areas. Headquarters is at 540 E. Belvedere Ave., Suite 202, Baltimore 21212.

To volunteer, call Gladys Starr the volunteer coordinator, also at 435-4933.

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