Expert offers insight into dementia

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published March 29, 2017

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TROY — Carol Waarala has firsthand experience with a loved one experiencing dementia.

Waarala was a caregiver for her father, who had Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia for 20 years.

Waarala began her studies in her early 50s and is a retired social worker with a master’s degree in social work and a gerontology specialist in aging certification from the University of Michigan. She has been a hospice social worker, speaking about dementia to families, professional caregivers and at conferences. She received certification in dementia care from the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

She will offer ways to help people with dementia and Alzheimer’s when she presents “Let’s Talk About Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia” at 6:30 p.m. April 10 at the Troy Public Library.

“I see so many people going through the same things dealing with loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia,” said Adult Service Librarian Donna Garbarino. “They are grateful to have a program, appreciate the resources, and they realize they are not alone.”

Waarala presents a variety of programs at libraries and other venues throughout the state.

“The program at the Troy library will not be a lecture and (will) include a lot of examples with my dad, patients and other family members,” Waarala said. “People are thrilled to get more information.”

Waarala explained that dementia is not a disease, but rather a group of symptoms.

“Dementia is not always Alzheimer’s. There are 100 different types of dementia, and Alzheimer’s comprises 70 percent of dementia. It affects more females than males.

“Communication breaks down, and difficult or problem behavior is the consequence because of damage to the brain,” Waarala said.

She said she aims to break down the stigma associated with dementia.

“The shame and silence — we need to get rid of that,” Waarala said. Treatment is now focused on the person and on understanding that dementia and Alzheimer’s involve more than memory loss.

“There’s still a person in there,” she said. “It’s a brain disease. They still have emotions — it’s just cognitive skills that are damaged.”

Waarala will focus on pathways to reach those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

For example, some people who have dementia lose their ability to see colors and contrasts, and have trouble seeing food on a white plate, Waarala said. If they use a red glass or plate, they can see it better and will often eat and drink more, she said.

People with dementia may no longer understand what is being said to them, but they will comprehend words better if the message is written down, Waarala said. “The brain processes it differently,” she said.

“Also, some may lose the ability to speak, but they can still sing,” she said. She said utilizing these pathways helps people caring for those with dementia realize that “their loved one is still there.”

Waarala said people who have lost family members with dementia have attended her programs and come away with a better understanding.

“It improves relationships all the way around,” she said. ‘It’s a family issue.”

People can register for the program at or by calling (248) 524-3534.

The Troy Publc Library is located at 510 W. Big Beaver Road.  For more information on Waarala, visit