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Aging Action Initiative Detect&Connect

By Rev’d Ellen Baxter, Outreach Coordinator for Detect&Connect, Aging Action Initiative


June 30, we held our final Detect&Connect workshop 

 — at least for now.

Detect&Connect is a workshop within the Aging Action Initiative (A.A.I.) and funded by an Innovation Grant offered through the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) of Marin County. As our co-facilitators wrapped up the final workshop, I signed into my A.A.I. email, anticipating the new messages.

Right on schedule, the emails popped up, “Thank you for such an informative workshop!” “The facilitators were the BEST!” “I learned so much!” “ This will help me with my mother, who is experiencing dementia!” “When is your next workshop? I want my sister, friend, neighbor, co-worker….. to attend.” I’ve learned over the past 2 1/2 years to anticipate these energetic messages.

Detect&Connect teaches how to recognize (Detect) mental health and dementia issues in older adults and how to communicate (Connect) empathetically and compassionately in those circumstances. It also offers a wealth of resources for further assistance and education. It was developed by experts in the field of mental health and dementia in older adults, and it is co-facilitated by our training team, also experts in these fields.

In addition to a wealth of valuable information, Detect&Connect is very interactive. Our highly skilled facilitators encourage questions and invite personal stories. They hear questions that have often never been shared by those who ask them. They listen to stories, the kind that spill out when you find yourself in a safe space with others who share your fears and, often, your pain.

Over the past 2 1/2 years, we’ve offered Detect&Connect to a diverse group of organizations and individuals across Marin County. It’s been extremely well received. With a total of 50 workshops under our belts, we’ve exceeded original expectations, delivering Detect&Connect to almost 1,000 people. We accomplished this even after transitioning to an online version during the COVD-19 restrictions.

From the beginning, I think everyone who worked on this project understood Detect&Connect’s value, that in a county with almost 30% of its residents over 60 years old, this information is highly relevant. Mental health and dementia in older adults can be a daunting subject, and it’s a difficult topic to speak aloud for many of us. Detect&Connect opens the door for that conversation.

What we didn’t anticipate was the impact our workshop would have on its participants. It’s not just the emails. There was the workshop where 4 people discovered they had each lost a parent in the previous 6 months, only to discover they were instant caregivers to the parent who was left behind, and unbeknown to them, it was a parent struggling with advancing dementia. It’s my understanding that all 4 of those families remain in touch since Detect&Connect. Then, there was the workshop with a blend of disabled adults and their caregivers, and poignant examples of what happens when dementia and mental illness blend with other challenges. The LGBTQ+ community hosted two workshops. Other participants included volunteers for the Humane Society and Marin Villages, bus drivers, neighbors, teachers, librarians, first responders, parks & recreation, faith organizations, and more. Most everyone, it seems, knows and loves an older adult and wants to understand how to offer support, whether as a caregiver, family member, volunteer, or neighbor.

At Detect&Connect, facilitators learned to anticipate the vulnerable comments, the shaky voices, the trembling ‘thank-you’s’. I quickly learned that the compassionate skills of our training team were as valuable as their seemingly endless expertise. As the program’s coordinator, I receive frequent calls and emails from people sharing their story of a dear friend or sibling or parent, wondering if they should attend. These are rarely short conversations, but with people who need support and are grasping for help.

Many of us remain hopeful for continued funding that will allow Detect&Connect to continue to reach the people of Marin County. I speak for our entire team when I say it’s been a great “ride” and we are all better off for having shared this experience. 

Yet, it’s a bittersweet good-bye. Detect&Connect is a program that still has much to offer. We’ve only begun to reach the number of people who need the information we share. We continue to receive several workshop requests each week.

As I say farewell, I join the many voices who are advocating for the continued effort to educate the residents of Marin County about mental health and dementia issues, how these impact the lives of older adults, and how we must do our part to support and care for them.

June 30, we held our final Detect&Connect workshop 

 — at least for now.