Brooklyn Court’s Gender Awareness Committee holds Alzheimer’s Awareness event
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, so the Kings County Supreme Court’s Gender Fairness Committee decided to honor the occasion by hosting a program titled “The Basics: Memory Loss, Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease” for judges, attorneys and other court employees at 320 Jay St. last Thursday.
“When we sat down to try to decide on which program we should host it, was brought to our attention that November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month,” said Justice Miriam Cyrulnik. “For me, this is very personal, because my mom had Alzheimer’s before she passed. Women are very much affected by this disease — disproportionately so — both as patients and as caregivers. We thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to provide information.”
For the program, the Gender Fairness Committee invited Eve Vaval, a Brooklyn College graduate with a master’s degree in social work from Stony Brook University. Vaval serves as both an advocate for patients with Alzheimer’s and a caregiver in her role as Care and Support Program Manager at the Alzheimer’s Association.
“This is personal to her, too, as I found out by reading her biography,” Justice Cyrulnik said. “She is a primary caregiver for her father, who has Alzheimer’s, so she knows first-hand everything that goes into it every day.”
Vaval explained that she worked for 20 years as a social worker. She went into the Alzheimer’s field after a patient at a center where she worked went missing for seven days because he had been undiagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and was not receiving proper treatment as a result.
“One of my patients, who was receiving home care services, one day had a court appointment,” Vaval said. “With the aid, he had four hours. The insurance company expected that he should be able to go home on his own. After the court appointment, he didn’t go home that day. He was lost for about seven days. It was one of the most difficult seven days of my career. From there I said, ‘I think I’m interested in making changes in the Alzheimer’s world.’”
Vaval explained the disease, an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly kills brain cells and impairs a person’s memory and ability to carry out simple tasks. It is the most common cause of dementia among adults, and Vaval said it effects approximately 33 percent of persons 80 years or older.
Vaval explained that the cause is unknown and there is no known cure. She warned that the best way to treat it is to look for early warning signs and to know the risk factors.
“Age is the greatest risk factor because at some point, as we get older, the closer we are to 65, our risk increases, and none of us know why this is the case,” Vaval said. “Family history is also a risk, but it’s not as high as age or genetics. There are specific genes, and people with that genetic make-up are at risk of having Alzheimer’s.”
She explained that it is important for judges and court employees to understand the risk factors and warning signs so that they can best help the people who come into their courtrooms.
“In the early stages is where you start to plan things,” Vaval said. “This is the point where it’s important to get legal advice, to get financial advice. The person will not be able to make decisions at some point and they need certain things in place like the power of attorney.
“Going to court and trying to prove which family member is best fit to take care of the person with dementia is tough. It’s very important in the early stage for there to be power of attorney and health care proxies that are done so that they don’t have to come to court and struggle with guardianship.”
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