'In their reality': Polk Museum offers special tours of Rodin exhibit to dementia patients

The Ledger
The Ledger

Caregivers of people suffering from Alzheimer's disease are often told to "live with them in their reality."

The Florida division of the Alzheimer's Association is partnering with the Polk Museum of Art in a novel approach to living in the reality of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Art Connects Alz begins Thursday at Polk Museum of Art at 2 pm. This is a guided tour for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia of the exhibit "Rodin: Contemplation and Dreams/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections." The activity will be held once a month throughout the duration of the exhibit, which ends Oct. 20. The association says the Rodin exhibit is dementia-friendly.

“We’re making sure we point out specific sculptures and we get their input on the sculptures. We want to know what they see when they look at it,” said Judy Streussnig, program manager of Alzheimer's Association Florida Gulf Coast Chapter.

As of 2020, approximately 17,600 people age 65 and older suffered from Alzheimer’s in Polk County, according to the Florida Department of Health. Statewide, the number is 580,000, and the association is projecting the amount to grow to 720,000 by 2025.

Art Connects Alz is just one of several ongoing initiatives through which the association attempts to help people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers.

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Alz Stars is a new program that the association launched earlier this year with the Department of Elder Affairs. The program is free to all Floridians. Interested participants should visit The website has multiple resources, including a 30-minute tutorial to help families recognize symptoms and tips on how to get a diagnosis.

“We got with the department of elder affairs and tried to figure out what do we need all Floridians to know,” Matthew Eaton said. “The biggest thing that would help everyone is if everyone knew the signs of Alzheimer's and could recognize it, imagine how much that could help people.”

Eaton, vice president of communications for Florida’s Alzheimer’s Association, said with early detection, families can access resources quicker, start clinical trials and begin planning financially with legal counsel.

“You get to enjoy the time you have because unfortunately Alzheimer’s is a terminal illness and there is no cure. It's doing the best with the time that you have and hopefully some of the clinical trials might help prolong some of those best years.”

Eaton said oftentimes caregivers become frustrated when a loved one regresses.

“Some of the best advice I've heard is if it doesn't matter, let it go. Let them be happy in their memory. Go let them see whatever they're seeing and just, you know, support them in that,” Eaton said.

"I just had a caregiver tell me her mother thought there were children around and she wanted a peanut butter sandwich made for her and the children. So, the caregiver made peanut butter sandwiches for her and the children. That was the easy thing that caregiver could do that made her mother feel comfortable,” he added.

There are caregiver support groups in Lakeland and Winter Haven. In addition to the support groups the association hosts a Caregivers College.

“They’ll understand the basics of understanding Alzheimer’s and dementia. They also get skills on effectively communicating with their loved ones as well as dealing with behaviors that occur with Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Streussnig said.

Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 hotline available in 200 languages at 800-272-3900. The helpline number is also the number to sign up for Art Connects Alz. For more information and resources visit

Monthly Caregiver Support Groups

  • 2nd Tuesdays at Noon at Hawthorne Inn 6150 Lakeland Highlands Rd., Lakeland. Lunch is provided at this location.
  • 3rd Tuesdays at 1:30pm at The Solid Rock Church 3601 Cypress Gardens Rd., Winter Haven.
  • 4th Wednesdays at 10am at the Florida Presbyterian Homes McArthur Building 810 Lakeside Ave, Lakeland.

Breanna A. Rittman writes news features for The Ledger. Send your feature ideas to

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