New program starts for those suffering from dementia and their caretakers in La Crosse

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU)-- Tuesday was the first meeting of a new program the La Crosse Parks and Recreation department is offering.

Connect Smart is for people suffering from dementia as well as their caretakers.

Each meeting will have a different theme and work to help maintain physical, social, emotional, and cognitive skills for those with dementia.

"Currently we are working on music therapy and as the caretakers get together we have a great collaboration with the University, Gunderson, [and] Mayo," said La Crosse Parks and Recreation Program Facilitator Amy Brezinka. "We're bringing in presenters to talk with the caretakers about different topics and ways to cope with being a caregiver."

The program starts with everyone together and then separates the caretakers into a different room.

Program coordinators acknowledge how hard is to be a caretaker for someone living with dementia and they say that's why Connect Smart is a program for them as well.

"Being a care partner for someone living with dementia can be very stressful and very overwhelming," said Brezinka. "So when we get together in that group a lot of what we do is just share with each other and get good support."

The program is mostly funded through a grant by Bader Philanthropies Inc. The grant equates to $39,000 and will fund Connect Smart for two years.

Tuesday's meeting was the first of its kind and laid a lot of ground work.

"I was taking them one by one into the other room and asking them orientation questions," said Daniel Tsolak, a La Crosse Parks and Recreation Program Coordinator. "Just like [asking them] where they are and who they are."

Several volunteers help run the program and the Parks and Rec department hopes to see more local students take part in the future.

For many, the program is a chance for interaction.

'I think the socialization is key. Getting out and meeting other people, not being home and isolated," Brezinka said.

Connect Smart is offered on the first and third Tuesday each month at the Black River Beach Neighborhood Center in La Crosse.