Georgia’s Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Collaborative works to improve the lives of those living with dementia

You may be wondering if any work is being done in Georgia to help those living with dementia and their caregivers. Well, the Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias (GARD) Collaborative, a statewide network of representatives from agencies, nonprofits, businesses, persons living with dementia and their care partners was created in 2013 and has been working every year to improve the lives of those living with dementia. The GARD Collaborative comprises six different workshops tasked with making strides toward the goals and objectives outlined in the GARD State Plan. Current workgroups include research and data, workforce development, service delivery, public safety, outreach and partnerships, and policy.  

Lynn Ross is a crucial member of the GARD State Plan Advisory Council. After serving on a workgroup for several years where she helped make recommendations for the GARD State Plan, Governor Deal asked her to join the GARD Advisory Council to represent the people in Georgia living with dementia. Lynn brings a unique perspective to the council because she is currently living with dementia.  

“My mother was diagnosed with vascular dementia in her late 60s, and my paternal grandmother was living with dementia when she died at age 95. That was always in the back of my mind. I think it is for most people if you have a close relative with a dementia diagnosis. I was approaching retirement age and noticed I struggled with organizing, prioritizing, and time management both at work and at home. As a medical social worker in the Neurology Department at Emory and having experience working in nursing homes, assisted living communities, and adult day programs, I was very familiar with the symptoms I was observing in myself.  

“At first, I wrote it off as stress or just normal aging, but it became evident it was more. After I retired in April 2017, I thought the pressure would be gone; my focus would be on doing so many new things that I would automatically improve. This was not the case.”

Lynn was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) at age 66. The Alzheimer’s Association defines mild cognitive impairment as a “slight, but noticeable decline in cognitive abilities, including memory and thinking skills. A person with MCI is at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another dementia.”

“Serving on the Advisory Council is an honor and a great responsibility toward all Georgians living with dementia and their families. I have the privilege of advocating for our needs and speaking for the thousands who cannot speak for themselves. Also, speaking for each care partner of the person living with dementia who is not always included in the conversation. Their needs and how to access the services available to them can be complicated. Families need support at so many levels, and in rural areas especially. Making resources available for all in Georgia requires speaking directly to those that need access, those living with dementia, and their families.”  

Lynn knows firsthand what living with dementia looks like for the diagnosed person and the caregiver. She offered some helpful advice for those living with dementia, as well as their caregivers.  

“My advice is the same for both; education about the disease from reputable sources and living fully every day with your family and friends. To care partners and families, yes, we are not the same in some areas, but we can still give and receive love, as we always have. We want to be treated as adults, listened to, and shown respect for our feelings and perspective.  

“Losing our independence is very difficult; try to give as much freedom as possible, especially in the beginning. Please don’t be quick to ask for drugs to decrease agitation; instead, look for things in the environment that may be confusing. Look underneath the behavior to what I may be trying to say. People living with dementia never lose their ability to sense your feelings; they can recognize genuine concern and care and the impatience or annoyance in your voice and on your face.”  

To learn more about GARD, please visit GARD State Plan