The Alzheimer's Association Arkansas chapter has organized what it's calling a Faith Outreach Education Series, designed to help members of religious communities learn about and better respond to the disease.
The first class, titled Healthy Living for Your Brain and Body, will be held at noon Wednesday on Zoom.
The free, four-part, hour-long online series continues at noon May 8 (Understanding Alzheimer's and Dementia), July 24 (Know the 10 Warning Signs of Dementia) and Oct. 16 (Dementia Conversations), according to Jill Thompson, the Arkansas chapter's director of programs.
People can call the organization's toll-free number, (800) 272-3900, to register and receive a Zoom link.
Nationwide, more than 6 million people have Alzheimer's or dementia, she said. In Arkansas, the figure was 58,000 people in 2020, she said.
The disease affects not only those who have it but also their loved ones.
There are more than 11 million unpaid Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers in the country, including 154,000 in Arkansas, she said.
The Alzheimer's Association views religious organizations as allies and potential partners.
"We know when an individual or loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia, often their community of faith is where they turn first, and so we want people in faith communities to be educated about the disease so that they can respond and help their fellow parishioners to the best of their abilities," Thompson said.
At the start of Wednesday's session, Thompson's husband, Barkley, the rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Little Rock, will "give his perspective on the need for faith communities to understand and respond to cognitive health," Jill Thompson said.
Barkley Thompson said it's important for congregations to minister to those encountering Alzheimer's or dementia.
"All the time ... a parish family will come to us and say, 'In our family, we're experiencing some sort of dementia or cognitive decline,' and my empathy is absolute," he said.
"My maternal grandmother, whose name was Beulah Barkley -- that's where my name came from -- she was arguably probably the most formative influence in my early life on my faith and formation, and she developed Alzheimer's," he said.
"For the first 20 years of my life, she taught all of us by her actions how to be a Christian," he said. "During the third decade of my life, she taught us by showing us how to receive help and care."
After a lifetime of giving care, she spent her final years receiving it, he said.
"We watched her fade, and that begged for me the questions 'Where is she?' and 'Where is God in the midst of this?'" he said.
When the Alzheimer's Association was seeking support, he answered their call and was glad to do so.
"That's why it's important to me, because it's very personal for me," he said.