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Senior students from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh College of Nursing are gaining insight into the compassion and care needed to help people with memory loss as well as assistance for caregivers.

Fox Valley Memory Project (FVMP), based in Menasha, offered community health nursing students a chance to shadow, help with preparations and volunteer with resource navigators.

A nursing major from Manitowoc who graduates in December, Corey Schnitzler said he expects he’ll be interacting with families affected by memory loss or dementia—especially since his plans are to be working in public health. Exposure to FVMP informed him on programs that exist and provided him the motivation to advocate for one if none exist.

“Affordable and compassionate care like that provided by Fox Valley Memory Project is way too rare for the importance it has,” he said.

Schnitzler sensed gratitude from clients for the ability to socialize with others. Some said they were glad their family members had time for their own errands and self-care, without having to worry about them.

“A lot of our elders feel isolated so opportunities like this are so crucial for helping with the depression this population is at risk of developing,” Schnitzler said.

Sarah Swant, a resource navigator with FVMP, said the prevalence of dementia is increasing as the population ages.

“Caring for someone with dementia can feel very lonely, so knowing that there is a community of people and organizations that understand the struggles and challenges of daily life helps caregivers to feel supported and empowered to live well and help their loved one to as well,” Swant said.

Designed to be interactive and with no cost to participate, Memory Café consists of activities, conversation, art projects, music, guest speakers and games that engage those with memory loss. Memory Link connects people with support; and Mindworks is a program for people with early stages of memory loss or dementia with opportunities for social connections while promoting brain health and overall wellness.

Jodi Koplitz ’12 BSN and ’18 MSN, the clinical instructor, said students benefit by learning about community resources and the referral process.

“As nurses, we’re part of a bigger interdisciplinary team—inside and outside the hospital,” she said.

Alyssa Prothero, senior student from Waukesha, has loads of praise for FVMP.

“I love that they included accessible chair exercises for a portion of their meeting, because it was clearly beneficial to all the participants to work on doable activities that can encourage maintenance of mobility and balance and prevent falls and muscle deterioration as they age. Overall, this is an amazing program that clearly makes a profound difference in the lives of community members who are impacted by dementia.”

Naomi Juarez Cruz, a senior from Elkhorn, said students have been taught to find ways to help every patient they encounter.

She said FVMP gave her insight on how a community provides services to families with a loved one going through early signs of dementia, memory loss or other cognitive impairments.

“They help these families by navigating them through their situation,” Juarez Cruz said, “and by creating action plans that can help them get the best care possible.”

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