Alzheimer Chapter partners with UTEP for Workshops

The coronavirus pandemic has increased anxieties among caregivers of people with forms of dementia, so the West Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association decided to offer a few virtual workshops to ease those fears with some help from The University of Texas at El Paso.

A pair of UTEP faculty members have volunteered to help the chapter promote and execute “Mindful Bridges,” a four-part social engagement series for caretakers of people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia that affects a person’s memory, behavior and thought processes.

Elvira Carrizal-Dukes, an assistant professor of practice in the Chicano Studies program, and Sarah Yvonne Jimenez, an instructor in clinical nursing, will help with the free public workshops that began May 7, 2020.

Interested participants should contact the chapter at 915-497-9930 or to reserve a space.

Carrizal-Dukes will talk about how to keep a journal and her husband, comic book artist and publisher Ronnie Dukes, will explain how to doodle. Jimenez will co-facilitate the workshops that will encourage journal writing and doodling as ways to self-reflect and lower stress from a health care perspective.

“We anticipate it will be a very innovative way to reach those (participants),” Jimenez said. She is completing her dissertation at The University of Texas at Tyler and plans to earn her doctorate in nursing this summer. The Alzheimer’s chapter has asked her to serve the association as an El Paso ambassador at the state and federal levels in search of legislative support. “We are very excited about rolling this program out.”

The journals and doodles are tied to the advertisements that Dukes and Carrizal-Dukes developed for these workshops. The couple created five four-panel color comic strips that focus on common challenges faced by caregivers and their patients with dementia, such as anxiety and repetition. The hope is that these suggested methods will help the caretakers, who often are family members, to express their feelings and reduce anxiety.

“I am doing this to impact people’s lives in a positive way,” said Carrizal-Dukes, who is a doctoral student in UTEP’s Rhetoric and Composition program. She expects to earn her degree this summer. “It has never been more important for us to understand what it is like to have dementia and to find out what we can do to help in our community’s response to the current crisis.”

The University professor said her efforts fit in with the visual rhetoric and composition portion of her doctoral studies. Part of her research involves how the visual arts and social justice can affect the world. It is part of what she called GraphicMedicine, a growing trend where medical issues and patient care are shared in a comic book style.

In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, Carrizal-Dukes wanted to raise awareness of the issues faced by caregivers. She and her husband, a former UTEP special events stagehand, accomplished this through a few impactful words and images.

“Comics offer an engaging, powerful and accessible method of delivering illness narratives,” Carrizal-Dukes said.

Kate Mangelsdorf, Ph.D., professor of rhetoric and writing studies and Carrizal-Dukes’ dissertation director, agreed. She said comics may be a better way to communicate healthcare information to patients who are visual learners.

“People can learn more from these everyday stories that are vividly drawn than they might from reading about Alzheimer’s in a magazine or from listening to their doctor,” Mangelsdorf said.

David Hernandez, the Alzheimer chapter’s director of programs and services, echoed that perspective. He said a comic strip approach makes the message, which can be difficult to deliver, more accessible to a larger audience. He also noted that the effect of dementia is multigenerational.

“The family unit caring for their loved one involves the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” said Hernandez, who earned his master’s degree in art education from UTEP in 2002. “This medium appeals to broader audiences.”

Hernandez said he hoped that the workshops would give caretakers ideas on how they could spark memories and promote conversation with individuals with different forms of dementia. He scheduled the workshops because of the COVID-19 outbreak and to coincide with June being Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.

Hernandez said he reached out to Jimenez and Carrizal-Dukes because they have worked together in the past. He worked with the writer/artist when he was education curator at the El Paso Museum of Art, and has worked with the nursing instructor through her volunteer work with his chapter as a community educator and support group facilitator.

“With UTEP’s strong presence in the community, innovative outreach initiatives, research and programs, it makes sense to partner with the University,” Hernandez said. “We share many of the same values and goals.”