By Lt. Tom Mattson, AA/Public Information Officer
North Kern State Prison

Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease, robbing people of the basic elements comprising their lives – their memories. Seeing a need in the community, some CDCR employees are trying to help.

Thanks to North Kern State Prison (NKSP), those suffering from the disease, as well as their caregivers, will be able to get a little more help from the Alzheimer’s Disease Association of Kern County. The facility’s employees recently donated $500 to the organization.

According prison officials, the building housing the association is anything but depressing.

“Upon entering the building on 5500 Olive Drive, building No. 1, in Bakersfield, you are greeted by staff having the time of their lives. Everyone is happy to be at work, happy to see you, happy to shake your hand and eager to share stories,” according to prison officials. “Staff members are dancing with their clients to ‘Boogie Wonderland,’ ‘Disco Duck’ and having fun. With all the joy and celebration it is easy to forget where you are.”

Alzheimer’s association Operations Manager Kristin Derr said her clients come from all over Kern County, including Delano, Wasco, Shafter and smaller rural communities, not just Bakersfield.

She was extremely grateful for North Kern State Prison’s donation and appreciates Warden Sandra Alfaro’s efforts in assisting such programs.

“Elderly programs are the forgotten programs,” she said.

Warden Alfaro said the organization provides needed services in the community. Some of the prison staff have family members struggling with Alzheimer’s.

“With budgets being cut and programs being slashed, you realize the need for extending your hand out to impacted programs,” Warden Alfaro said.

The Alzheimer’s program offers adult day services for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s as well as providing “guilt-free” time for the primary care giver.

The goal of the program is to help keep the Alzheimer’s patient in their home, with their family, as long as possible. “Adult Day Services program … delays the need institutionalize” the loved one, according to the group’s website, www.adakc.org.

Prison staff members who dropped off the donation said, “As you left the building, you could turn back, look into the crowd and feel the gratitude in the waves and smiles directed toward you.”

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

According to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease which slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear after age 60. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older people.

The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer. In 1906, Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. Her symptoms included memory loss, language problems and unpredictable behavior. After she died, he examined her brain and found many abnormal clumps (now called amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (now called neurofibrillary tangles).

Plaques and tangles in the brain are two of the main features of Alzheimer’s disease. The third is the loss of connections between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain.

Although treatment can help manage symptoms in some people, currently there is no cure for this devastating disease.

How long can a person live with Alzheimer’s disease?

According to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s is a slow disease which progresses in three stages — an early, preclinical stage with no symptoms, a middle stage of mild cognitive impairment and a final stage of Alzheimer’s dementia. The time from diagnosis to death varies — as little as three or four years if the person is older than 80 when diagnosed to as long as 10 or more years if the person is younger.

Editor’s note: Some websites may not be accessible from a CDCR computer.

What resources are available?

For the caregiver, begin searching for available resources at Alzheimers.gov at https://www.alzheimers.gov/caregiver_resources.html

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Learn more about Alzheimer’s at https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet

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