Hospice of Marion County is offering help and hope to families with loved ones dealing with dementia.

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Posted January 26, 2023 | By Andy Filmore

HMC will hold eight Dementia Caregiver Workshops this year at the Nancy Renyhart Center for Dementia Education, 3231 SW 34th Ave., Ocala, beginning Jan. 28.

The HMC will also host the program “Best Practices in Dementia Care” by renown dementia care expert Teepa Snow from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 8 at Church of Hope, 3233 SE Maricamp Road, Suite 300, Ocala.

Lanie Shirey, executive director of the Renyhart Center, said the talk by Snow is an excellent opportunity to hear a “leading authority” on dementia care. Snow is an occupational therapist with “over 40 years of rich and varied clinical and academic experience,” according to her website, www.teepasnow.com

“Teepa is an advocate for those living with dementia and has made it her personal mission to help families and professionals better understand how it feels to be living with the challenges and changes that accompany various forms of the condition so that life can be lived fully and well,” according to the website.

In an email to the Gazette about her upcoming talk, Snow stated (in) “every program I offer, my goal is to help family members, friends, professionals, and even people who have dementia see this condition from a different perspective.”

“We have options,” she wrote. “For all that is lost, there is still much that is possible and abilities that remain.”

Tickets for Snow’s program are $42.50 per person with a meal included. More information can be found at www.hospiceofmarion.com.

The free Dementia Caregiver Workshops will be conducted by D.J. Ryan, R.N., HMC community education liaison at The Elliott Center at 3131 SW 34th Ave., Ocala.

The workshops will include a Virtual Dementia Tour, which gives a sensory experience of dealing with dementia and instruction from Teepa Snow’s Positive Approach program on how to live with a person with dementia.

The sessions will be held Jan. 28, from 9 a.m. to noon; Feb.21, from 9 a.m. to noon; March 25, from 9 a.m. to noon; April 18, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.; June 24, 9 a.m. to noon; Aug. 3, 9 a.m. to noon; Sept. 30, 9 a.m. to noon and Nov. 9, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Call (352) 291-5138 to reserve a seat, space is limited.

HMC also has other services for the approximately 14,000 Marion County residents dealing with dementia and their caregivers. This includes information on technology and support services that  includes a robotic cat with soft fur that can be comforting to a person with dementia; and the “AutoOut” home fire suppressor that mounts above a residential stove to smother a fire in an unattended pan.

HMC also suggests the Marion County Sheriff’s Office Extra Special Persons (ESP) program, which includes a scent evidence kit and identification bracelet to enroll memory-impaired persons in the ESP program. The evidence kit and bracelet can aid in the safe return of a memory-impaired person. MCSO literature states “over 60% of those with dementia will wander at some point.”

The free kits are available from the MCSO Crisis Intervention/Victim Advocate Unit at (352) 369-6745.

The Nancy Renyhart Center for Dementia Education is named in honor of Nancy Renyhart, a former HMC patient who passed away April 30, 2020. John Renyhart, Nancy’s husband, dealt with the progressive and eventually debilitating changes in his wife’s behavior caused by Alzheimer’s disease and remained steadfast.

“I loved her,” he said.

John and Nancy Renyhart met at Fredonia College in Western New York while in their late teens and were married in 1965. The couple had careers in the New York and New Jersey area – John as an administrator with nonprofit organizations and Nancy as a substitute teacher and merchandiser with a pharmaceutical company.

When they decided to retire in 2006, the couple focused on the Ocala area and moved to Ocala Palms in northwest Marion County.

Travel was a pleasure for John and Nancy, and they visited countries including Australia, New Zealand.  One of their last trips was attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico to see hundreds of colorful hot air balloons rise into the sky.

Nancy Renyhart was an avid doll collector and enjoyed working on jigsaw puzzles. Around 2009, a visiting friend who had not seen her in many years noticed changes in Nancy’s behavior. John Renyhart recalled other instances where the illness began manifesting itself.

“We had a family birthday party, and she was uncomfortable with the noises, it confused her. Another episode occurred when we were at a theater, and she had a panic attack. We had to call 911,” he said.

Nancy Renyhart was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment in 2011 and then diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013 after an examination at UF Health in Gainesville.

Nancy Renyhart received 15 months of hospice care at home between 2015 and 2016. Based upon Medicare requirements, she was released from hospice care until 2020.

HMC provided information on supportive community resources including in-home doctor visits. John Renyhart took the seven-week Savvy Caregiver Training Course program, available through Elder Options of North Central Florida in Gainesville (agingresourses.org), which gave him insight into the effects of the illness and how to be a better caregiver.

“You need a lot of patience,” he said. “Nancy was cared for by an in-home health aide eight hours a day, seven days a week. In order to transfer her from the bed to the wheelchair, we purchased a Hoyer Lift. We also arranged for a low-air loss mattress to mitigate bed sores.”

Meanwhile, John Renyhart received training to become a hospice volunteer and member of the Philanthropic Advisory Board.

Nancy Renyhart became progressively incapacitated and unable to perform activities of daily living, including communicating and walking during the last five years of her life. She was transferred to HMC’s Cates House, where she passed away on April 30, 2020.

John Renyhart established the Nancy Renyhart Endowment for Dementia Education at Hospice of Marion County, “which has recently evolved into the Nancy Renyhart Center for Dementia Education,” he stated in an email.

Brynett Gamba, HMC director of communications, stated the center is a response to the need for increased dementia education.

“Our Hospice of Marion County Board of Directors saw a need to expand dementia education and the Nancy Renyhart Center for Dementia Education was created as a program of Hospice of Marion County,” she said.

Meanwhile, John Renyhart continues to promote Caregiver Support Groups for Ocala Palms and The Preserve and raise funds to support educational programs.

“It’s been my therapy,’’ he said. “It’s very satisfying to be able to help others as they care for loved ones struggling with dementia.”

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