Gerontology Grad Raises Awareness for Dementia
Kathie Stettler signed up for the Gerontology Certificate course in 2015, and became interested and involved in how the aging process works. She has taken her expertise in her other passion, health coaching, and combined it with her knowledge of gerontology to help successfully transform lives.
The Gerontology Certificate is designed to offer opportunities in the field of aging for those who work with older adults. Students can explore the major challenges facing our aging population and discover the many resources currently available to this group.
This certificate is ideal for caregivers, patient advocates, senior activity directors, entrepreneurs, legal and medical practitioners or anyone who has a desire to improve the lives of individuals in this demographic, like Kathie. She is very grateful for the professional education program and the lasting impact it has made on her life. Her journey began here and she has been able to make a difference because of it.
In March of 2015, Kathie found out that her father-in-law, Dennis, suffered surgery complications resulting in full-blown dementia and delirium. While she was working through the Gerontology program, less than six months later, she ended up taking care of him.
“It was overwhelming to me,” said Kathie. She was devastated, but that was the event that changed the way she looked at the Gerontology program.
“I wouldn’t have taken [the class] so seriously if this situation hadn’t been going on at the time,” said Kathie. “Once you start caring for someone with dementia, it changes your life in a very profound way. It is life-changing just to watch people be present yet have no mind.” Dennis died on March 20, 2017. He was 81.
In her Gerontology class, Kathie learned that dementia comes in several stages: mild, medium, cognitive impairment and severe. A lot of times, when people have dementia, you can sense it. In Kathie and her husband’s case, there were signs of Dennis doing odd things like driving to the wrong place for breakfast.
“He had still managed to get around each day, for the most part, but he was on 13 medications and wasn’t taking them properly,” said Kathie.
He had aneurysms, weakened artery walls that balloon outward, and Scott, her husband, had to take care of him until Dennis eventually moved to a long-term care facility due to full-term delirium.
He also had a mild cognitive impairment, the slight decline of memories and thinking abilities, brought on by being under anesthesia for so long during his surgery. He didn’t have enough oxygen flow to his brain. This is the main reason why his memory declined after the surgery. He was also diabetic, but for a little while, he was able to get his sugar levels under control along with improve his memory by remembering people and being able to tell time again.
Dennis’ death fueled a great fire inside of Kathie, and her and her husband wanted to do something more. She contacted The Dementia Spotlight Foundation, and created a memorial spotlight. They raised about $1,500. Kathie gives credit to the Gerontology program for making her aware of this cause, which in turn helped her to raise funds and awareness for dementia.
Kathie’s instructor, Lois Ricci, brought in a speaker for a group called the Coalition of Advocates for Georgia’s Elderly (CO-AGE). This visit is what made Kathie eager to join. She became a member of the Council on Aging in Georgia in 2017 and is also a part of the Dementia Friendly Georgia working group as well.
“I found that advocacy for people is in my nature,” said Kathie.
She enjoyed being a part of CO-AGE so much that she encouraged everyone in her Gerontology class to join as well.
Members of CO-AGE can create a proposal for the aging population and present it to the Georgia legislature. Each year, the CO-AGE members choose from 13 proposals, and Kathie was among the 13 accepted this year. Her proposal is called “Health Coaching as a Reimbursable Expense” and its nickname is called “Coaching for the Ages.” You can read hers and others’ proposals at the Georgia Council on Aging. She hopes that the CO-AGE committee and others looked at her proposal and saw the value that health coaching has played in the lives of not just the elderly but all people.
Regardless of how her proposal advances, Kathie said the information that she has learned and her advocacy for the elderly is priceless. This past year she has seen all of the amazing changes that have occurred in the people older than 65 with whom she’s worked with. Witnessing the modifications to their health and quality of life have made her even more passionate about health coaching.
Kathie is excited to share her impactful story with people. “I would have never known about all of this if it wasn’t for the Gerontology program,” said Kathie. Because of CO-AGE she was able to get involved with a great group that shined a light on dementia. “I’m not going to stop here,” said Kathie. “I am a very purposeful and mission-oriented person.”
Kathie is currently a certified health coach in several programs, with the American Council on Exercise being one of them. She also teaches the CCPE Personal Trainer Certificate course and a certified personal training program. Kathie continues to raise awareness for those living with dementia “so other families don’t have to deal with this horrible condition.”