Each summer solstice, as communities throughout the world celebrate the changing season, those in the memory care field mark this “longest day” as an occasion to raise awareness for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairments – a population that tops 44 million in the United States alone. A longtime advocate for memory care-related causes, this year the Masonic Homes chose to take a new approach: Rather than raising awareness for memory impairments alone, they chose to recognize dementia caregivers in the local community.
“Caregivers make a lot of sacrifices on behalf of their loved ones,” says Joseph Pritchard, M.D., director of memory care at the Masonic Homes of California. “We want them to understand that their community is here to support them in return.
Pritchard was instrumental in developing the Masonic Homes’ new Luminary Caregiver Awards, which celebrate citizens in the Tri-City community who have devoted their time, compassion, and energy to serving a loved one with memory-related challenges. Award entries and nominations were accepted from throughout the local region, and the Masonic Homes compiled a team of health and emergency care specialists – including Masonic Homes staff, local police and firefighters, health care workers, and other community leaders – to choose the winners.
On June 30, 2017, more than 120 caregivers, community and health care leaders, and philanthropists attended the Masonic Homes’ first annual Alzheimer and Dementia Caregiver Recognition Gala. At the gala, in addition to recognizing the Luminary Caregiver Award winners, guests enjoyed a range of music that is favored by Masonic Homes residents experiencing memory loss, including chamber music performed by a classical trio and “oldies” classics performed by a live vocalist. Guests dined upon a menu modeled to reflect the “Blue Zones” – areas of the world with notable longevity, categorized by author Dan Buettner. The delicious multicourse meal included Japanese-style yakiori salad, Costa Rica-inspired ceviche, and an Italian-style roasted peach.
A highlight of the festivities was a silent auction, during which guests bid for a variety of goods donated by individuals and businesses – from gift certificates to sporting tickets. The auction raised nearly $4,000, bringing the total proceeds of the evening to more than $13,000. These funds will be distributed among memory care-supportive organizations that serve Tri-City residents, including the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay, Alzheimer’s Support Group for Caregivers in the Fremont/Tri-City Area, Union City Alzheimer’s Support Group, and others.
Congratulations to 2017 Luminary Caregiver Awards Recipients!
Homer L. Harlan Millennial Luminary Caregiver Award: Recognizes a young caregiver who has sacrificed school, work, and other obligations to help care for a loved one coping with dementia.
Washington is the primary caregiver for his mother, who experienced early-onset dementia. When he learned of his mother’s diagnosis, Washington was in college and about to have his first child. He made remarkable personal sacrifices to ensure his mother’s health and safety, while also caring for his new family. He is pursuing a master’s degree in social work, through which he plans to provide support and guidance to other families and caregivers.
Union City Police Department (Lieutenant Lisa Graetz and Community Resource Coordinator Crystal Raine)
John A. Charland Jr. Innovation Luminary Caregiver Award: Recognizes a caregiver who uses technology in an innovative way to help ensure safety and improve quality of life for a loved one coping with dementia.
Lead by Graetz, the UCPD has partnered with the Masonic Homes to implement new practices to serve local residents with dementia. Efforts include training on locating citizens with memory loss and approaching a person with dementia; creating an opt-in database of local citizens with dementia to aid rescue attempts; and creating a volunteer group to support family dementia caregivers.
Maria Luisita Peterson
Inspirational Luminary Award: Recognizes a caregiver whose extraordinarily compassionate service is a source of inspiration to others.
Peterson currently provides round-the-clock care and support for her nonagenarian mother who suffers from several medical conditions, including dementia. She is a licensed vocational nurse at the Masonic Homes, who is valued by residents and staff alike for her skills and compassion. In addition to working more than 40 hours each week, caring for her mother, and supporting her family, Peterson recently beat breast cancer. She rarely speaks of herself, but she is the definition of inspirational to all who encounter her.