ST. GEORGE — The saying goes that hope is free, but hope can also be fleeting for those dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. Those afflicted with it are robbed of their memories, while their loved ones have to watch a soul evaporate away.
Brad Cottam and his wife Terri know firsthand what a drain on the soul Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can be for both those stricken with it and their families.
The two were among the first participants and volunteers in 2012 for St. George-based Memory Matters, which provides support and education in Southern Utah and southeastern Nevada for both those afflicted with Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as those who care for them.
The couple has seen three of their parents suffer from the disease. Brad Cottam had to remind his father-in-law that he started dating his daughter in 1979, and all he could get in return was a blank stare of a forgotten memory.
“It’s a gutwrenching thing to see someone forget who they are,” Brad Cottam said.
For the Cottams, it turned out that hope is free. Nearly eight years after its formation, the Cottams have received support from Memory Matter and have volunteered 700 hours themselves.
Memory Matters recently celebrated the opening of its new facility in St. George which provides much-needed space for its volunteers and those they help. An open house held in late January brought out both those who have utilized Memory Matters as well as members of the community.
Groups like Memory Matters have an especially strong purpose in a place like Southern Utah with its aging population.
LuAnn Lundquist started Memory Matters after her father-in-law had an onset of Alzheimer’s and she discovered a need for a place in St. George that provided help. Starting with around three volunteers, Memory Matters now employs 50 volunteers with more wanting to help. But a lack of space to house them forced Lundquist to turn volunteers away.
The new building, located at 168 N. 100 East, provides them with some much needed space.
“What we’re doing means employing more people, and we need space for that,” Lundquist said. “This has allowed us to have the space to do that. We’re here to help your neighbors and friends and relatives that are suffering with a memory-loss illness.”
Nearly everything Memory Matters does for both the afflicted and for caregivers is done free of charge. That includes support groups, activity clubs with memory activities, care planning, caregiver education and a wellness calling service that just calls Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers just to see if they’re OK.
“Someone can literally just walk in even without insurance and get help. We don’t take insurance. We’re not set up to do so,” Lundquist said. “It’s truly a non-profit, and we have wonderful donors and people that help us so that we can provide those services.”
For an additional charge, there are adult day-club services that provide activities for those needing care, and a respite for caregivers for whom caring for a loved one is practically a full-time job.
“We just want them to know that we are here,” Missy Lundquist, head of marketing for Memory Matters, said. “A lot of people need help and don’t know they have it.”
Memory Matters’ new home has included offices as well as a large meeting room and a classroom.
Some furniture was bought from yard sales and Memory Matters leadership had to do their own painting. The local rotary came in and helped clean up the remnants of the previous tenants.
Even with the more room to help others, the weekly support group still will have to hold many of its weekly support meetings at the St. George Library, since as many as 60 regularly show up.
“We’ve already outgrown it,” Janet Labrum, program director for Memory Matters, said.
Terry Cottam said she had some friends drop her and her husband because they either couldn’t understand the illness their parents had faced, or just wanted to not be a part of dealing with it.
But through their Memory Matters support group, they have also made many new friends in a fellowship of those who have shared a similar experience.
“Sometimes, you just want someone to talk to and feel their warmth,” Terry Cottam said. “If you have someone to talk to, it brings you back.”
As to be expected in a support group like this, there are those who have passed away. The Cottams found themselves taking care of cats that were left when one person being helped by Memory Matters passed away. One member lost a husband, another lost a wife.
But there have also been celebrations, like two members of the support group that found each other and later married.
“They’re able to get that support, help and friendship and meet other people that are going through it,” LuAnn Lundquist said. “Their loved one that has dementia is now able to find new friends that they feel safe with and they relate to.”
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