HomeCommunity NewsDavid Laurell: Gibbons, Saint Joseph Support Alzheimer’s Caregivers

David Laurell: Gibbons, Saint Joseph Support Alzheimer’s Caregivers

For baby boomers, Gen Xers and older millennials, Dame Jane Seymour brings back memories of her in the role of Dr. Michaela Quinn in the CBS Western series “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” or as Elise McKenna in the 1980 romantic fantasy film “Somewhere in Time.”

For those of the same eras, Leeza Gibbons will immediately conjure up memories of her hosting “Entertainment Tonight” and her own NBC and syndicated daytime talk show, “Leeza.”

While almost a quarter of a century has passed since viewers could tune in to “Leeza,” those who watched the show recall Gibbons holding court in the middle of her audience while questioning a panel of celebrities, experts in various fields, or everyday people challenged by extraordinary circumstances.

An audience of locals who gathered for a luncheon and film screening at the Burbank Community YMCA’s Social Impact Center this past week experienced going back in time as Gibbons stood among them and questioned a panel led by Seymour on issues pertaining to people with Alzheimer’s disease and memory disorders, and those who care for them.

While Gibbons is mostly recognized as an entertainment reporter, she is equally known to be an advocate for Alzheimer’s caregivers. That is due to her 2002 establishment of the nonprofit Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation and its signature program, Leeza’s Care Connection, which offers free services and support for caregivers. Having stemmed from the personal experience of her mother, Jean, being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1999, Gibbons’ work as an advocate for caregivers today stands as a tribute to her mother, who lost her battle with the disease in 2008.

Leeza’s Care Connection, in partnership with Burbank’s Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, is dedicated to educating, empowering and energizing caregivers. 

“Saint Joseph provides us with space for our programs and support for our mission, to make sure that caregivers and their diagnosed loved ones are not alone as they prepare for the journey forward, which is usually one they are not at all prepared for,” Gibbons said.

“Our partnership is one that is symbiotic and makes sense on every level,” Gibbons added. “We are there to help answer the first question, ‘What now?’ which is always asked following a diagnosis. We then provide a support team working hand-in-glove with Saint Joseph’s professional caregiving staff led by Terry Walker.”

Walker, who serves as the director of neuroscience operations and community engagement at Saint Joseph, said the partnership with Leeza’s Care Connection helps them by offering something very specialized for their patients and family members.

“We are professional health care providers,” Walker said. “Leeza’s staff specializes in working with family members who are finding themselves in the role of being caregivers. They are desperately in need of direction and support, which Leeza’s team provides through the programs they have established.” 

Gibbons, who called Walker “a firefly who lights an area and then moves on to light another,” said that as a reporter she is a trained listener.

“Because of that, I really listen to people’s needs and then, working with professionals, use that information to fine-tune our programs,” Gibbons said. “We offer a team approach to help create a new reality and Saint Joseph provides us with the space and financial support so we can provide our programs at no cost.”

The emphasis behind last week’s luncheon was to provide awareness of the partnership between Leeza’s Care Connection and Saint Joseph, and to provide a narrative that fosters more understanding, patience and humanity when it comes to those who are dealing with memory loss – for patients, caregivers and extended family members.

“That’s why we decided to screen Alicia Coppola’s film ‘And You Are…?’ at this event,” Gibbons explained.

“I met Alicia through Jane, and after seeing her film, which deals with Alzheimer’s, I wanted to help spread its message because the subject matter is my passion,” she added.

Jane Seymour and Diana Lu in a scene from “And You Are…?” — Image courtesy Calm Productions

“And You Are…?” written and directed by Coppola, stars Seymour as an aging woman who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and is visited by her transgender grandson. It is a moving story of how each of them is coming to terms with one another and their own identities — one who has only the past to prove she exists, the other who desperately wants to erase his past as it never proved his true existence.

 Last week’s event included a post-screening discussion of subjects touched on in the film that was moderated by Gibbons. Along with Seymour and Coppola, the panel included actress Diana Lu, who also appears in the film; Maryam Kazimi, a neurology specialist at Saint Joseph Neurovascular Center; and Tia Delaney-Stuart and Savana Lavine of the California Southland Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Being overwhelmed and feeling hopeless is what happens following an Alzheimer’s diagnosis,” Gibbons said. “Caregivers are typically put into one of two categories; they are either Mother Teresa’s who are beyond reproach, or hopeless and downtrodden victims. Our seat at the table is to let them know that neither is true. We provide the awareness that support and effective strategies exist that can be of great help to them — tips, techniques and tools. We also give them the permission to know they must hang onto themselves while in the process of letting someone they love go.”

Calling Leeza’s Care Connection “a hub to connect people to the proper resources within their community,” Gibbons said that over the past 18 months they have been filling the gaps they have found in those resources with their HUGS program.

“HUGS stands for Helping You Grow Strong,” Gibbons explained. “It is a person-to-person mentor group that provides caregivers with a sponsor of their choosing to help them through the caregiving journey. They are people I call FCTAs, which is a Former Caregiver Turned Advocate who knows what it is like to stand where they are now standing. Being a FCTA is like having an advanced degree in caregiving, and they serve as an advocate and a customized ambassador for those who are on the same path they once walked. That may be through a one-time phone call or by becoming a friend for life.”

For more information on Leeza’s Care Connection, visit leezascareconnection.org.

Sam Kim, interim director of the Burbank Community Y, welcomed actress Diana Lu, who appears in the film “And You Are…?”
Alicia Coppola, Jane Seymour and Diana Lu participated in a post-screening panel discussion that touched on issues including hope and acceptance.
Leeza Gibbons poses questions to Tia Delaney-Stewart of the Alzheimer’s Association and Maryam Kazimi of Saint Joseph Neurovascular Center.
Jane Seymour spoke of the importance of listening and hearing. “We would save a lot of money on psychotherapy if we were all heard,” she said.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

First published in the June 1 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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