(left) Amy Molepske, Jim Holmes, and Brenda Burgett pose for photos as Jim Holmes is named Sheboygan County Caregiver of the Year for 2013 by the Dementia Care Network
Ginny Nyhuis, community outreach coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association, remembers the day she first met Amy Molepske and Brenda Burgett. “It was back in early 2011,” said Ginny, “at an Understanding Dementia: The Basics class that I was presenting in Sheboygan County. The girls were attending to get more information to assist their father, Jim Holmes, who was caring for their mother, Patti.” At that time Jim and Patti were moving from Virginia to Sheboygan, to be closer to their families, so they too could participate in Patti’s care. Jim had purchased a condo in a Continuum of Care property in Sheboygan and Amy and Brenda were trying to set up the condo to make it a smooth transition for mom. “During the class they asked lots of questions,” said Ginny. “I saw an ah-ha moment when during the class we discussed that persons with dementia sometimes struggle to recognize themselves and are often intrigued, and sometimes frightened, by that stranger in the mirror.” As a result of what they learned in Ginny’s class, Amy and Brenda immediately went to the new condo and removed all of the mirrors, knowing that their Mom had recently become afraid of walking past them. The girls worked hard to make the new home look like the old home as much as possible.
For the Holmes’, caregiving is a family affair. Amy and Brenda take turns staying with mom, while Jim gets some much needed respite. The whole family discusses decisions when it comes to Patti’s care, and even the grandchildren have been involved. When granddaughter Sarah created a project to earn her Girl Scouts Gold Award (the highest award in Girl Scouts), naturally she decided to design her project to help other teens understand dementia. Sarah designed a Purple Day for the Kohler School District and did a presentation to approximately 75 other high school students on the signs and symptoms of dementia. She also created a video of memories as a gift to her grandmother.
Jim, Amy and Brenda have attended numerous classes, support groups, and events held by the Alzheimer’s Association over the last few years. They have also reached out to other resources in the community, such as non-medical in home care, the SPARK! Program offered by John Michael Kohler Art Center, the Aging and Disability Resource Center, and most recently hospice care, just to name a few.
A few months ago the family approached the Alzheimer’s Association when 4-year old twin grandchildren were struggling to understand the changes in Grandma Patti. As a result of much persistence and planning on the part of Brenda, Ginny Nyhuis presented Sheboygan County’s very first session geared for young children struggling to understand dementia. The new group will meet monthly with the children and will use various activities to help them understand changes, and give them a safe environment to express their fears and ask their questions.
Jim Holmes and his family have been strong advocates and wonderful caregivers for Patti. Jim recently said, “Things are going faster than we would like. Patti is still Patti and her concern for helping others, her planning for Christmas, her love for her grandchildren, and her praying continues. When she smiles, gives you a kiss and says she loves you, the day is a success and we thank God for each day with this beautiful woman.”