SEBRING — Lisa Rodriguez is a diminutive woman with a heart as big as the outdoors. This mother, wife, speaker and author is also a certified dementia practitioner. The only thing that matches her passion for her family is raising awareness to the needs of dementia patients and their families.
Rodriguez knew her career route at an early age when she witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease that wrought changes in her grandmother. She watched her live with the disease for 13 years.
“I would go to her house and see changes,” Rodriguez said. “My grandmother was always a strong and independent woman. The family struggled with finding resources to help her.”
After working with the Alzheimer’s Association in Cleveland and later in Florida for nearly 20 years, a friend introduced her to the Purple Angel Ambassador program started by Norm Mack in England. The program brings awareness and education to communities of those living with dementia and ridding society of stigmas surrounding the disease.
Rodriguez formed the Purple Angel “Dementia Friendly” Highlands County Initiative. She did this by becoming a Purple Angel Ambassador. Her ultimate goal is to see Highlands County become one of the first dementia-friendly counties in the state.
She began by approaching then-Sheriff Susan Benton and former sheriff’s Public Information Officer Nell Hays, who supported her by having deputies trained to deal with lost dementia and autistic people who might need assistance. Through grants, the department was able to obtain GPS monitoring bracelets. Rodriguez said the next step will be to educate hospital staff and businesses in the county.
“I am a dementia educator,” Rodriguez said. “I work with families and give them the necessary tools and train them to be able to manage difficult behaviors and challenges in their journeys. Those with dementia shouldn’t have to adapt to society, we should adapt for them.”
As part of her initiative, Rodriguez began Memory Cafes locally. They are a two-hour social event for those with dementia and their families.
“We invite caregivers and their loved ones to enjoy a social setting without the stigma and awkwardness, in a dementia-friendly atmosphere,” Rodriguez said. “So many families isolate themselves and that can lead to depression. We make sure families understand the importance of socialization.”
In April 2016, Rodriguez and co-author Gary LeBlanc released a book on managing this tragic disease, “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors” (Health Care Edition). It is available through online retailers and through Rodriguez.
“This book is especially important to nursing home and assisted living facility administration,” Rodriguez said. “Caregivers will find it very helpful also.” Rodriguez has caught the writing bug and would like to begin another book soon. She is working on a few ideas but is seriously considering a handbook for teenagers who are dealing with dementia in their families. She also speaks to audiences all over the country, educating and raising awareness.
When Rodriguez is not traveling, speaking or writing, she enjoys scrapbooking and spending time with her family. She has lost many loved ones to cancer and Alzheimer’s and feels it is important to make time for her family.
For more information on the Purple Angel Ambassador program, go to alzheimersspeaks.com. To contact Rodriguez, call 863-449-0264.