Caring for someone suffering from dementia is challenging, complex and often heartbreaking on many levels. And in many cases, the caregiver ends up needing more care than the patient themselves — a fact that psychiatrist Dr. Nestor Praderio, founder of the local non-profit Face to Face, knows all too well.
“Your family member or friend has begun to forget how to do daily tasks,” explained Praderio, “and by the flip of a coin, you as the daughter, son, sister, brother or friend have become their caregiver. You often don’t even realize you have slipped into that role; it is just what you do every day. Eventually, it becomes emotionally and physically exhausting, and completely overwhelming. That is why I started Face to Face: to support the caregiver.”
Praderio, a native Argentinian who came to the U.S. in 1983 via a refugee program created during the Carter administration, has been a practicing psychiatrist in the Coastal Bend for over 30 years. Originally a surgeon in his home country, Praderio spent four years in a military concentration camp during Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-1983) before making his way to Corpus Christi in 1994.
“When I arrived in Corpus Christi,” recalled Praderio, “having switched from being a surgeon to a psychiatrist and completing my residency at Yale University, I found a city with a beautiful bayfront, excellent physicians and a profound need to help dementia patients and their caregivers. Dementia is a devastating disease for the patient, the family and the caregivers — a disease for which there is currently no cure. All we can do right now is slow its progression.”
With an aging population, the needs of Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers are expected to increase dramatically over the next 30 years. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, currently, there are 11.5 million family caregivers supporting an estimated 6 million U.S. citizens living with Alzheimer’s. In Texas that translates to approximately 400,000 people suffering from the disease, and one million family caregivers.
“I started Face to Face in 2007,” said Praderio, “and I gave it that name because when you want to treat an individual there is no better way than direct contact. No book, no article, no video can give you what a face-to-face experience can offer. Our mission at Face to Face is first to provide respite, education, support and resources for caregivers of family members with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in the Coastal Bend. Secondly, to shine a light on this devastating disease, and generate resources which directly benefit our community.”
To support that mission, Face to Face offers monthly educational and support groups, conducts painting sessions for Alzheimer’s disease patients through Memories on Canvas, is a participant of the National Memory Screening Program and hosts two annual fundraisers: Face to Face Family and Friends Caregiver Festival in the spring and The Face to Face Memory Walk. The Memory walk is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 4 at Waters Edge Park and consists of a two-mile fitness walk, fun activities and educational resources. “With each event, we believe we are creating understanding, support and community; we are touching lives, and,” Praderio smiled thoughtfully, “we are doing it Face to Face.”