Faculty member seeks community partners to launch dementia support groups

January 27, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Anne Marie “Kitty” Kubat, one of the newest faculty members of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) in the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State, will spearhead support groups for adults with dementia and their caregivers.

BrainBuilders launched seven years ago at Purdue University where Kubat led the program for six years. Kubat, who recently joined CSD as an instructor, is in the process of coordinating a BrainBuilders program in the State College and surrounding areas.

BrainBuilders is designed for people who are living at home or with family and who struggle with thinking, memory and communication issues. These challenges may be the result of a diagnosed disease process or condition such as Alzheimer's disease, frontal temporal dementia, Parkinson's disease, adult onset hydrocephalus, vascular dementia or other medical conditions.

The program provides weekly support to people with mild to moderate stages of cognitive decline, and provides an environment for social interaction, language/cognitive stimulation and creative expression for individuals experiencing cognitive deficits. Additionally, the program offers support and education for the caregivers of people with cognitive deficits.

“Often people with dementia don’t want others to know. This program provides a safe haven where everybody is experiencing the same problems,” Kubat said. “There is no judgment. They can safely share their experiences and see others who have the same issues and learn from each other. Meanwhile, their caregivers learn ways to cope.”

CSD graduate students will assist BrainBuilders group members with constructing photo memory books, which are used to stimulate long-term memory and narrative language skills.

“These books will feature a photographic record of the client’s life with accompanying narrative information taken from client conversations about the photos,” Kubat said. “People with memory loss due to dementia have preserved long-term memory and significant short-term memory problems. Use of the photo memory book as a reminiscing prop allows clients to discuss events from long-term memory and thus leads to successful communication interaction.”

Each week, BrainBuilders clients will participate in structured and appropriate activities to stimulate attention, memory and thinking skills. Socialization, participation and enjoyment of group activities will be the primary foci of the program.

Clients also spend 20 to 30 minutes with creative arts, such as painting or building birdhouses. The exercise provides clients with another outlet for self-expression.

“As dementia progresses language problems may come into play for individuals, such as finding the words to express how they are feeling, so even when the words are gone they can continue to express themselves through the art,” Kubat said.

Simultaneous to the BrainBuilders session, the family member or caregiver with whom the BrainBuilder member lives will participate in the Circle of Support. This support group will focus on helping the care-partner develop caregiving skills, learn what to expect in later stages of cognitive decline, learn stress reduction techniques and provide peer support.

BrainBuilders’ clients must be living at home, able to participate in the 90-minute sessions, have an interest in attending and not have a history of behavioral outbursts or wandering behaviors.

The client’s primary caregiver must participate in the Circle of Support program by committing to learning about dementia, actively listening to others in the group, sharing experiences within the group and maintaining confidentiality outside of the group.

The program is in its preliminary stage of development and is expected to launch in the fall. Kubat is seeking community partners to assist with planning and implementing the program in the State College region. Anyone interested in offering assistance can contact Kubat at axk61@psu.edu.

Last Updated January 28, 2015