After organizing a conference on dementia and caregiving aboard a cruise ship a few years back, a former caregiver is bringing her event online for the pandemic era.
Lisa Marie Chirico, a one-time advertising and public relations professional, leveraged her experience from multiple years as her father’s caretaker and found a new path helping others navigate caregiving for those who have dementia or require long-term care.
“My event is my way of trying to make a little dent in the universe with dementia,” she said.
When Chirico’s father developed dementia and needed skilled nursing care and moved into a nursing home, she left her corporate job to become his secondary caretaker. When her father died five years later, she committed herself to life coaching and what she calls “Nursinghomeology,” coaching people on how to navigate the landscape of long-term care based on her experiences with her father.
“I’m part of that statistic, one of the many Americans who had to drop out of the workforce because they became a caregiver,” she said. “When my dad passed away, I was very motivated to try to help other people to get other people what our family didn’t receive.”
Shortly before the pandemic, she merged these interests under Care Planet, a project which consists of a blog, her coaching services, a podcast, and other content and services. She’s also written two books, one on compassion and one about fear.
With prior experience in event planning and recruiting speakers for conferences, Chirico brought together nine presenters (including herself) in 2019. Her first dementia conference set sail, literally, that spring, taking place over seven days on a cruise ship in the Caribbean Sea. Passengers on board with dementia ranged from ages 53 to 90.
“I had about 30 families, and all different types of dementia,” Chirico said. “Everybody got very close.”
The cruise was an opportunity for people with dementia and their families to talk about and compare their experiences, as well as learn more about living with and taking care of people with dementia. Chirico said the ship created a special environment.
“It wasn’t weird to have the conference on the cruise ship,” she said. “It was a really cool venue. Being out on the water, on the open ocean, has a lot of therapeutic benefits to one’s health and wellness.”
Chirico had planned for a second cruise in March 2020, but COVID-19 forced her to instead assemble a roster of speakers for a “virtual cruise,” a three-and-a-half hour video available for purchase with eight speakers, herself included, delivering the kind of talks they would have for a conference. Chirico said the virtual cruise is available to everyone but may be especially of interest to memory care centers, senior centers, and assisted living facilities, in addition to families of people with dementia.
Access to the video via a private link is available for $29.99 on the Care Planet website. Chirico said she’d like to continue to produce similar content periodically in the future, but is not sure how often it will happen. She also plans to organize another cruise, but those ambitions remain complicated by the ongoing pandemic.
She stressed the importance of hearing the perspectives of those living with dementia, and the upcoming conference includes two such speakers – Phil Gutis and Nancy Nelson – who are “not just living, but thriving” with dementia.
“It’s important to hear from people who are living with the disease,” Chirico said. “It’s important for people to see that it’s not this horrific death sentence, that you can still do things.”
It’s important to hear from people who are living with the disease. It’s important for people to see that it’s not this horrific death sentence, that you can still do things.
Gutis is a former New York Times reporter who was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s at 54. Nelson, a Las Vegas resident who was named Nevada’s Senior Citizen of the Year in 2018, is an author and poet who has been living with dementia for almost a decade.
Chirico is the opening speaker at the conference. Other speakers include writer and photographer Peter Maeck, Katurah Hartley (Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health), clinical psychologist Amanda Mullen, PsyD, former police officer Gene Saunders (founder of Project Lifesaver), and art therapist Erica Curcio.