Jenna Pogorels knows the fears and the countless questions families go through when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.
Pogorels is the senior program manager for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Duluth office, which has been providing support to people with dementia since 1979. Pogorels and her colleagues deliver education, training and other resources to those facing Alzheimer’s across the seven-county Arrowhead region.
“These families are never alone in this process,” Pogorels says.
Currently, more than 94,000 Minnesotans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and more than 254,000 family and friends are providing care, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Before joining the association, Pogorels received her masters degree in social work from the University of Washington, and for over eight years, she worked with families and caregivers in a variety of settings.
Pogorels’ first experience working with people affected by Alzheimer’s happened during an internship at a senior living psychiatric unit in Washington. She said she found herself gravitating to Alzheimer’s patients and their families and developed coping mechanisms to help family members handle the emotions of seeing a loved one dealing with the disease.
“You saw the anxiety they go through when their loved ones are in a hospital for the first time,” she says.
Pogorels’ dedication led to the creation of the “Caring for the Caregiver” – an educational program for family members who have a loved one in the hospital. Through the program, families received coping and stress reduction tools and tips.
“I wasn’t all familiar with Alzheimer’s coping at that time and I actually used the Alzheimer’s Association website as a resource,” Pogorels says.
After graduation, Pogorels headed back home to Minnesota to begin a career working with older adults and families affected by Alzheimer’s. She loves that her job allows her to spend time with the families in care consultations and learn their stories.
“Every family has a unique story and challenge along their journey, and it’s really an opportunity to see how different families function and come together,” Pogorels says.
Alzheimer’s is a complex disease that researchers are learning more about every day, Pogorels says. While our brain functions may change during the aging process, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging and creates more challenges than simply memory loss, she says.
“Early diagnosis is something we really advocate for,” Pogorels says. “There’s many things that can happen in older adults that mimic dementia that are treatable.”
As Minnesota continues to face a boom in its senior population, Pogorels says it’s important for younger people to embrace and support seniors and the Alzheimer’s community.
‘We know that if you’re in the 25-35-year-old range that you might be possibly caregiving or know someone that’s impacted by Alzheimer’s,” she says. “We want to make sure the younger generation learns from past generations.”
Pogorels hopes to get communities more involved and continue to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s by creating support groups and educational training to better prepare people in the future.
“Everyday something inspiring happens,” Pogorels says, “and I feel truly blessed I’m in the position that’s responsive to the needs of the community.”
You can learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association by visiting their website at https://www.alz.org/mnnd or calling their 24/7 Helpline at 1.800.272.3900.
Aaron J. Roundtree is a regular contributor to Face Aging MN. If you want to reach him or have any questions, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have your own story to share? We’d love to hear from you.