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Community Feature Broadband Access Transforms Remote Work Experience for Alzheimer’s Executive Director

Broadband Access Transforms Remote Work Experience for Alzheimer’s Executive Director

For those of us living “inside city limits,” it might be easy to take everyday conveniences for granted, like internet service to our homes. Yet, for others living in the country, access to rural internet service can be sporadic and unreliable. For Fe Vorderlandwehr and her family, who enjoy the peace and quiet of rural living west of Haysville, internet access was simply nonexistent.

Like so many others, Fe, who is the Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Central and Western Kansas Chapter, learned firsthand the difficulties of working from home after her office suddenly shut down on March 13, 2020. Little did they know, they wouldn’t reopen their offices for in-person meetings or gatherings of any sort until June 1, 2022.

Still, Fe tried to make the best of the situation during that time.

“We didn’t have internet service at home,” Fe recalled. “I know that is hard to imagine, but it is true. We didn’t even have an option for internet because of where we live. For my son, Isaac, it was hard too because he was in the middle of his freshman year at Clearwater High School. We had to use our cell phones as hotspots, and I had to get another cell phone for work to use as a hotspot. Even with the hotspots, the coverage was spotty at best. It was not ideal and made Zoom and Google Meets very hard.”

According to Fe, everything changed when SKT expanded fiber internet services to her area with the help of a Broadband Acceleration Grant from the state of Kansas. “We have been part of the SKT family since April 2022 and we love it! I’m catching up on binge watching shows that everyone has been talking about for years.”

Although she’s back in the office most of the time these days, Fe noted another benefit of her new service at home. “We haven’t buffered or lost connection and, as for working from home, it has been such a blessing. I’m able to work from home and be confident that I can actually have video calls and get to my emails and such. In May, I had to quarantine for five days after being in close contact with someone that had tested positive for COVID, so I continued working from home.”

She continued, “my chapter staff is small, and we cover 69 counties. When someone is out [of the office], that puts more work on the others so having reliable internet service allowed me to continue serving the mission and helping families living with Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

When Fe joined the Alzheimer’s Association in 2015, she knew very little about the disease. After seven years, she’s had ample “on the job training” and says she’s still learning. In the beginning, she wondered how “forgetting someone can cause your death.” What she learned is that eventually you forget how to do everyday things like breathing or swallowing.

“My first month [with the association] I met a gentleman with early-onset Alzheimer’s who was in his early 40’s… my age!” Fe said. “Every day is a blessing, and we don’t know how long we have to live these blessings. So, I try to be more in the moment and take each day as a gift.”

Fe shared other important details about Alzheimer’s as well.

“Alzheimer’s and other dementias are not normal parts of aging,” she said. “This is memory loss that impacts your daily life. It is one thing to forget where you put your keys or where you parked your car at the grocery store. It is another thing to look at the keys in your hand and not know what they are or walk out of the grocery store, then look back and not know what that building is.”

“Don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor or family when you start to see signs of cognitive impairment,” Fe added. “The earlier you address it the better because sometimes it isn’t even Alzheimer’s or dementia, but something else entirely that could possibly be easily treated.”

For caregivers, Fe notes that each person is as unique as the person they are caring for. That’s why the Alzheimer’s Association provides a variety of support resources such as the 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900 where a dementia trained specialist can answer questions and support is offered in a variety of languages.

Other resources include:

  • In-person and virtual education classes and support groups
  • In-person consultations
  • A robust website, alz.org, which offers answers to common questions as well as brochures on a variety of topics, information on research and progress, and more

“The Alzheimer’s Association is committed to accelerating the global progress of new treatments, preventions and, ultimately a cure,” Fe said. “While Alzheimer’s prevention has no definitive answers yet, research shows that we can take action to reduce our risk of developing it. These actions include exercising our bodies and our brains, eating a heart-healthy diet, staying socially active and protecting your head, i.e., wearing a seat belt, fall-proofing your home, etc.”

If you’re interested in supporting the Alzheimer’s Association, there are several events coming up that help raise money to expand research as well as continue to provide support and additional resources. The Wichita Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be on Saturday, September 17, at Wichita State University. Of course, there are several other walk events throughout the state. Visit alz.org/cwkswalk to register for a walk near you.