The more than 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease require vigilant care to keep them safe and healthy. But caring for a person with Alzheimer’s or another dementia is often very difficult.

That care carries with it high levels of emotional, physical and, quite often, financial stress. While the jobs of paid caregivers may often be rewarding, the work is frequently difficult, poorly paid and involves little or inadequate training.

The Alzheimer’s Association-California Central Coast Chapter recognizes the critical role of caregivers in the quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients and the concurrent and ongoing need for training, education and support of those caregivers.

To that end, the 2011 Alzheimer’s Association Tri-County Caregiver Conference, “Dementia: Current Trends and Future Directions” on May 12 at the Santa Barbara Mar Monte Hotel, will offer two tracks: One for elder care professionals, and one for unpaid family or friend caregivers and the person with early-stage dementia. The daylong event will bring together family and professional caregivers for a day of education, networking and support.

Experts from around the country will present keynote addresses and workshops. The speakers include Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association director of medical and scientific relations in Chicago;  Dr. Linda Hewett, clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco at Fresno and co-director of the Alzheimer’s and Memory Care Center; and Kenneth Kosik, M.D., Harriman professor of neuroscience research, co-director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at UCSB.

Some of the topics being covered at the conference include the latest developments in Alzheimer research and development; the changes in sexual behavior of dementia patients; genetic risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease and the ethical questions surrounding genetic testing; Alzheimer medications, drug interactions, and medications to avoid for dementia patients.

Click here for a complete list of speakers, conference activities and breakout sessions.

The conference will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday, May 12 at the Mar Monte Hotel, 1111 E. Cabrillo Blvd. in Santa Barbara. Participant registration is $105 per person and includes breakfast and lunch. Grants are available to those who wish to attend but who can’t afford it.

— Barbara Lanz-Mateo is the communications manager for the Alzheimer’s Association-California Central Coast Chapter.