CHAPEL HILL – According to a recent survey, nearly two-thirds of Americans have had a personal experience with Alzheimer’s disease—and more than 60 percent of Americans say they feel unprepared to care for a loved one who’s diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“I just don’t know that you’re ever really prepared, unless you’ve walked through it before and seen the toll that it takes,” says Stephen Lair, the franchise owner of Home Instead Senior Care in Chapel Hill. “It affects the whole family.”

This week, Home Instead is offering a series of classes designed for family caregivers to help cope with the disease while keeping their loved ones as comfortable and safe as possible.

“What we’re trying to do with our Alzheimer’s program is give family members the tools to be able to engage their family members all throughout the process (of the disease),” Lair says.

The program is called Alzheimer’s CARE, or Changing Aging through Research and Education.  The classes are free; they begin this week Tuesday in Chapel Hill and continue on Thursday, from 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Lair says the time commitment is worth it, because these classes speak directly to what caregivers need to know to cope on a day-to-day basis.

“A lot of training (tends to be) very cerebral,” Lair says. “It talks about how the disease progresses and what the stages are. But what we find is that family members want to know, ‘okay, that’s great, I know how the disease works, but how do I get my dad to take a bath? How do I manage those behaviors that become difficult as the disease progresses? How do I continue to connect with him once he starts losing such large chunks of his memory–and losing chunks of who he is?'”

The training sessions are designed to walk people through the various stages of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Lair says the best approach, at any stage, is simply to try to engage the patient “in their world.”

“I think a lot of people, when they’re dealing with Alzheimer’s, they’re consistently trying to bring people back,” Lair says. “(They say) ‘if I play a certain music or say a certain word, something that’s familiar, then there’ll be a moment of clarity’–and that may sometimes exist…(but) rather than (trying to) bring them back, you (should) just accept the reality of, ‘where they are in time is not where I am in time. Even though he may be 85 right now, he’s remembering things (from) when he was 60, 65 years old. And that’s what his world looks like.'”

Lair says the “Alzheimer’s CARE” classes are designed to teach people how to engage Alzheimer’s patients in that way. He says one of the most effective tools is something called a “life journal.”

“(It’s) something where, throughout the early stages of Alzheimer’s, you begin to gather information about who the person is at all the different stages of life,” he says. “So as they regress through Alzheimer’s and they lose more current memories, you can still engage them in their world, in their reality.”

Classes run from 6:00-8:30 Tuesday and Thursday at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce office on Estes Drive. If you’d like to sign up for the free workshops,, or call Home Instead Senior Care at 919-933-3300.