Even over the phone, Nydia Montijo’s energy is palpable. She’s on a mission to make the world a better place for the 55 million people worldwide who have dementia and the families that care for them.
Nydia has been working in health and human issues for over forty years, five of which have been at FSL. Originally hired as the Community Outreach Coordinator, she’s now the Caregiver Educational Series program manager and the Volunteer program manager.
Though Nydia’s role has expanded, the main focus of her job has stayed the same. Back then, she was hired to run caregiver workshops for Catholic parishes. The workshops focused on topics such as fall prevention, demystifying long-term care, avoiding frauds and scams, and self-care for caregivers.
Since then, the workshop program has expanded to include additional subjects, such as dementia-friendly caregiving and helping seniors choose whether to age in place and how to evaluate assisted living options. Currently, she’s working on developing another program that will center around useful technologies for people who decide to age in place.
“‘We are a community.'”
Like many other FSL employees and volunteers, Nydia’s desire to help stems from personal experience. She had an aunt with dementia (who, sadly, passed away) and has been caring for her parents for seven years now. As a result, she knows firsthand how bewildering and challenging dementia can be for the people who suffer from it and their loved ones.
“We feel awkward, right?” Nydia says. “Whenever we encounter somebody with dementia, we don’t know how to behave. We feel funny about it; we may shy away, walk away or turn our backs because we don’t know how to interact. So the point of this workshop is to help all of us say, ‘We are a community, we have to embrace everybody,’ and when you encounter somebody with dementia, this is how you approach them and handle it.”
In particular, her dementia-friendly workshop educates people about what dementia is and how it works. It teaches caregivers how to communicate with individuals who have dementia. At the end of the course, she asks students to come up with an action they plan to take moving forward. She says that many people express intentions to be more patient with their loved ones moving forward. Others say they want to reach out to friends who developed dementia and with whom they lost touch.
“Dementia does not have to be negative,” Nydia says firmly. “We want our communities to be engaged [with individuals who have dementia]. Just because they have dementia doesn’t mean we need to lock them away.”
Dementia awareness hits close to home for Nydia
It’s clear that Nydia’s work is significant to her, on both personal and professional levels, and allows her a chance to give back. Remembering her aunt, she says, “I didn’t know then what I know now about dementia. Now I can understand it. I have nieces and nephews whose in-laws are showing signs, and I’m able to educate my own family about what’s happening in their lives. It’s extremely rewarding. They’re changing their attitudes about dementia, and they feel a lot more relieved now that they understand what’s going on and can modify their behaviors.”
Referring to the programs she runs, she says, “It only enhances our value to the community that we have this expertise within FSL and can share it with the community.” She believes this is the real value of FSL’s dementia and caregiver services: their ability to heal the rifts that dementia can cause in relationships. She is proud to work for a company that provides support, comfort, and resources to individuals and families through what can be an extremely painful and confusing process.
Established in 1974, FSL is dedicated to providing integrated, customized care for those who need it in the Phoenix area. We offer a wide range of home- and community-based services, including:
- Affordable housing options
- Nutritious meal programs
- Health & Wellness programs
- Senior centers
- Recreation programs
- Support for caregivers
These services are designed to enable Arizonans of all ages to live happier, healthier, more independent lives. So, if you or someone you know is struggling to have their needs met, don’t hesitate to contact us and find out how we can help you. And if you’re looking to give back, consider donating or volunteering your time to our mission. We can’t wait to work with you!