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Meet Luciana Mitzkun Cramer, Friendship Center Montecito’s New Family Services Director

Luciana Mitzkun Cramer is family services director at Friendship Center, where she works to ensure that the organization is thoroughly fulfilling the needs of its participants — and their families. “Family caregivers make great sacrifices to ensure their loved ones with dementia have their needs met,” she says. “Giving the gift of time, by providing respite care to the person with dementia while the caregiver takes a break to have some of their own needs met, is the most generous and beneficial way of assisting a family caregiver.”
Luciana Mitzkun Cramer is family services director at Friendship Center, where she works to ensure that the organization is thoroughly fulfilling the needs of its participants — and their families. “Family caregivers make great sacrifices to ensure their loved ones with dementia have their needs met,” she says. “Giving the gift of time, by providing respite care to the person with dementia while the caregiver takes a break to have some of their own needs met, is the most generous and beneficial way of assisting a family caregiver.” (Friendship Center photo)

Friendship Center is a nonprofit organization celebrating its 40th year of providing adult day services in our community. These services include day programs for those who are elderly, experiencing memory loss due to Alzheimer’s or other conditions, and/or seeking social contact and activities.

They also include respite, support and education for these individuals’ family caregivers, many of whom are adult children with careers and families of their own or spouses who are themselves elderly.

With two centers, in Montecito and Goleta, Friendship Center provides peace of mind for caregivers and lively activities and socializing for its members, Monday through Friday, all year round. Daily rates are decided individually, based on each family’s income level.

We at Friendship Center Montecito are delighted to have Luciana Mitzkun Cramer join our staff as family services director after six years at the Alzheimer’s Association, Central Coast Chapter. Recently, she was kind enough to sit down with us and share a little about the journey that has brought her here.

Q: What is your education and background in elder and Alzheimer’s care?

A: I was born and raised in Brazil, where I got a BS in law and worked as a corporate lawyer. When I moved to California in the early 1990s, I took a position advocating for AIDS patients, and that’s when I was first in contact with dementia. Moved by the pressing needs of the epidemic, I soon changed my focus to public health education.

In 2000, I started working at Jodi House, and for 10 years I directed programs and services for adults with brain injuries, most of them affected by different forms of dementia.

In 2010, I took a position at the Alzheimer’s Association providing dementia education, counseling and other related services to families affected with progressive dementia. Most of my education in dementia care was obtained in the field and through courses provided by the Alzheimer’s Association.

Q: What drew you to this work?

A: A profound compassion for the struggles of people living with cognitive impairment and for the family members who love them.

Q: What inspired you to make the move from the Alzheimer’s Association to Friendship Center?

A: I look forward to applying all my acquired experience and knowledge in dementia in the direct care of seniors affected with cognitive impairment, in addition to providing support to their family members.

This transition was a natural one for me, since I've long been an admirer and supporter of the excellent care Friendship Center provides to its members. I understand how deeply important these services are for the members and their family caregivers. Members receive loving care, participate in life-enriching activities, socialize and enjoy their days in the company of others they regard as family.

Family caregivers have the assurance that their loved ones are in a safe and nurturing environment, so they can take time to attend to themselves, lowering their stress levels and increasing their capabilities of providing care to their loved ones. Participation in Friendship Center programs is not only healing and nurturing ... ultimately, it saves lives!

Q: What is the best way to help those who are caring for their loved ones with Alzheimer's or other dementias?

A: One word: respite. Family caregivers are caring for two people — their loved one with dementia and themselves. Both need care, and have other needs to be met as well.

Family caregivers are living under many stressors.

There are physical stressors related to the demands of providing assistance with personal needs, e.g. hygiene, housekeeping, lifting and cleaning. There are financial stressors — dementia costs are estimated to be three times higher than treatment of other conditions. There are environmental stressors — the home must be modified to accommodate the unique needs of dementia patients, and companion caregivers may find themselves living in uncomfortable settings.

There is also the social stressor of isolation. As the caregiver often becomes isolated from society and from their own loved one with dementia, relationships in this situation are chronically one-sided.

Finally, there is emotional stress related to juggling multiple responsibilities while experiencing every stage of grief at once, every day, month after month, with no end in sight.

Stress has consequences: caregivers of those with dementia are at elevated risks of developing certain health conditions such as high blood pressure, anxiety, shingles, heart attack and, ironically, Alzheimer’s disease.

Family caregivers make great sacrifices to ensure their loved ones with dementia have their needs met. Giving the gift of time, by providing respite care to the person with dementia while the caregiver takes a break to have some of their own needs met, is the most generous and beneficial way of assisting a family caregiver.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish as Friendship Center’s family services director?

A: It will be my honor to work in close contact with family members to further ensure that the services provided by the excellent Friendship Center staff thoroughly fulfill the needs of each individual participant of our day programs. I will be readily available to listen to their concerns, provide support and information about care strategies and planning, and assist in implementing any strategies that will further enrich the experience of their loved ones attending our programs.

Each person with dementia is unique, and has unique interests and needs. Family members must be assured that once their loved ones enter Friendship Center they will be treated with respect, dignity and loving attention to their individual needs.

Every staff member of the Friendship Center is deeply aware of this responsibility in providing a high standard of care. As part of the team, it will be my privilege to facilitate it and further bring this assurance to family caregivers.

                                                                 •        •        •

Space is available at both Friendship Center sites.

For more information about Friendship Center Montecito, call Luciana Mitzkun Cramer at 805.969.0859.

For more information about Friendship Center Goleta, call Tracy Cohn at 805.845.7454. 

Click here for more information about Friendship Center. Connect with Friendship Center on Facebook: Friendship Adult Day Services.

— Justine Sutton is the grants and development coordinator at Friendship Center.

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