Some people with dementia get sweet, funny and cuddly

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Active Aging Program Administrator Mary Cassem of Catholic Charities talks about programs for caregivers at the Life Living Series at the New Ulm Community Center Sunday.

NEW ULM — An active aging program administrator talked about programs for caregivers in the Life Living Series at the New Ulm Community Center Sunday.

Mary Cassem of Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota said she was a caregiver to her mother and sister who had dementia when she found out there are good things that can come out of it.

“Before she got dementia (symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities), my mother was a staunch farmgirl who believed you ‘sucked it up’ and did the work,” Cassem said. “When she became a grandmother, she got sweet and kind of funny. She liked to cuddle and often told her grandkids she loved them.”

Cassem said people can go either way with dementia.

“At 95, my mother enjoyed motorcycle rides and was as happy as she could be,” Cassem added. “You have to have a sense of humor and look for the good in things.”

Cassem said most caregiving is done in the home, sometimes up to 60 or more hours a week.

“There are many challenges like lack of insight, need for more skills, asking for and accepting help, and maintaining work/life balance,” she explained.

Cassem said caregiver negative, self-talk often leads to anger, frustration and depression, especially when caring for brain-impaired adults and those with dementia.

On the positive side, Cassem said caring for adults at home reduces hospital stays and pre-mature nursing home residency.

“Caregiver group respite programs provide active, social engagement for elderly adults,” Cassem said. “Caregiver tools include workshops on stress management. Other people can benefit from these workshops too.”

She quoted former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, president of the board of directors for the Rosalyn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI) at Georgia Southwestern State University. The RCI was established in 1987 to address issues related to caregiving in America and internationally.

“There are four people in the world–former, current and future caregivers and those who will need caregiving,” Cassem said.

The Facing Alzheimer’s Together Life Living Series features author Rosalys Peel, 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 27 at the New Ulm Community Center. Peel will focus on Alzheimer’s Disease effects and how families can face it together.

In addition, Peel will present her book, “Mike and Me: An Inspiring Guide for Alzheimer’s Couples.”

When her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Peel searched bookshelves for a “couples guide” that would show them how to deal with his illness at home instead of in a care facility. Unable to find such a book, she decided to write it herself.

A limited number of books are available first come, first served at the New Ulm and Springfield Public Libraries.

A group workshop to help caregivers develop self-care tools to better manage the unique challenges facing them will be held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., Thursdays, April 25 to May 30, in the Pastoral Center large conference room at the Diocese of New Ulm, 1421 6th N. St., New Ulm.

Registration is preferred by April 19. Register at There is no charge for the workshop.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at