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Sally Smith, a Gerontological Nurse Practitioner whose work has helped many local families cope with the disabling effects of memory loss, was presented with the Maine Alzheimer’s Association Marilyn Paige Award for Volunteerism during the Association’s recent annual meeting.

Ms. Smith, who has volunteered for the Maine Alzheimer’s Association for more than five years, also works with patients dealing with dementia and memory loss in MDI Hospital’s Care Management Department.

The award was named after the Maine Chapter’s founder, Marilyn Paige, whose husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1981. Unable to find a support network, Mrs. Paige started one of her own which spawned others around the state. In 1987 the statewide group was incorporated as the Maine Alzheimer’s Association.

Today, the Maine Alzheimer’s Association serves the entire state, offering patient and family services such as education, advocacy, and research.

 “I’m thrilled I got an award named after Marilyn Paige,” remarked Ms. Smith. “She was a real pioneer who took her problems and made something positive out of them.”

A significant challenge facing our state is a rapidly aging population, explained Ms. Smith. “We’re the oldest state in the nation, with an average age of 40.7,” stated Ms. Smith. “And age is the number one risk for developing Alzheimer’s.”

One of the most crucial services she offers, both as a volunteer and as an employee of the Hospital’s Care Management Program, is working with caregivers. “We think of Alzheimer’s patients in nursing homes, but 70% of people with Alzheimer’s are cared for at home by family and friends,” she added. “So caregivers need a lot of support. In fact, supporting caregivers is the most important thing we do.

“Because Alzheimer’s symptoms aren’t like cancer or heart disease, families think they should be able to do it themselves. But in many ways it’s more draining to care for Alzheimer’s patients because they increasingly can’t participate in their own care,” explained Ms. Smith.

Ms. Smith explains that there are several resources for caregivers, and that a major focus of her efforts is to put people in touch with them. “Organizations like Eastern Agency on Aging and Island Connections provide respite and support to caregivers,” explained Ms. Smith. Ms. Smith provides education to help caregivers understand how to provide care, and how to access all available services.

The need for services targeting the aging population will grow as that population continues to expand, explains Ms. Smith. “When the 40 somethings get over 60 in the next twenty years, there’s going to be a big explosion of people needing, and giving care. You can’t yet prevent this disease, but with the work of organizations like the Maine Alzheimer’s Association, you can protect the quality of life for the patient and the caregiver.”

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