Caregivers learn to build new memories, support loved ones through new Dementia Care Certificate program

Published on Tuesday, 31 October 2017 12:19 - Written by AUGUSTA ROBINSON,

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Ann Ponder never imagined that the man who volunteered to use his pickup to deliver watermelons to her party would leave with a treat of his own.

Roger Ponder’s good deed led to their friendship. Soon after, he had her heart.

The Ponders, now both 82, of Tyler, raised five children together and have been married for 47 years.

“We’ve always discussed things freely,” Mrs. Ponder said. “We’ve had great communication. That’s what’s kept us together.”

Their openness and trust has helped them overcome many trials, including an especially troubling pattern Mrs. Ponder started to see around the time they were both 75.

“He was always mechanically minded-could just fix and do anything,” Mrs. Ponder said. “I began to notice just some little things that he normally didn’t do.”

Mrs. Ponder said her husband has since been diagnosed with dementia-though his symptoms and her experience working at a nursing home have led her to think he may have Alzheimer’s.

Right now, the family is adjusting to its new reality but is thankful Ponder’s personality still shines through.

“It’s been like really, really slow, which is good because some people completely plateau,” said Lindy Riddle, the Ponders’ granddaughter, who also assists Mrs. Ponder in caring for Roger during weekdays. “We are blessed that he is so sweet.”



Both Mrs. Ponder and Ms. Riddle have lots of experience taking care of others but both said they feel more comfortable in their roles as Ponder’s caregivers after attending a Dementia Care Certificate course last month.

Offered through a partnership between the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County and Tyler Junior College, the class is designed to give professional and familial caregivers insight into the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia, help them learn ways of communicating effectively and compassionately with a person who has dementia, use an individual’s life story to build happiness and more.

During a section of the course taught by Jamie Huff, program director at the Alzheimer’s Alliance, participants reviewed creative ways of coming up with activities out of objects such as newspapers and apples to fragrances and tape measures.

“You need to make sure you meet them where they are,” Ms. Huff said. “Know their past interest or skills. Anything you can think of can become an activity.

During other portions of the course, Mrs. Ponder and Ms. Riddle were also reminded of the importance of facing Ponder when talking to him to avoid confusion and to make sure he remains part of the conversations that take place about and around him.

“It’s OK to challenge somebody to see how much they can do,” Ms. Huff said.

Mrs. Ponder recently heeded this advice when she handed her husband a plunger and asked him to fix a stopped up toilet in their home-a chore Ponder nailed.



Ponder has shown great aptitude in spotting the differences between two pictures.

On a recent morning, he made spotting the variances in two nearly identical drawings of a geyser in Yellowstone Park look easy-spotting some before his granddaughter Ms. Riddle.

His mornings are busy, as Ms. Riddle helps him with a variety of simple exercises and other tasks.

Mrs. Ponder said she considers it a blessing to have their granddaughter helping with the care of Ponder. She hopes to keep her husband residing in their home as long as possible, but worries that as his disease progresses that may become more difficult.

“I was in physically good health until August of this year,” she said. “I’m fully aware he can become aggressive…”

The family will continue to use the tools they’ve acquired since learning about Ponder’s diagnosis, as they work on building new memories as precious as those in their past.

“He is the same person that I married,” Mrs. Ponder said. “Things are different now.

“Spiritually we’ve always just taken things one day at a time…” she said. “Whatever life brings we know that the Lord is here to help us.”




This 7-hour Dementia Care Certificate course will take place Nov. 16 in the Regional Training and Development Complex, 1530 S SW Loop 323. Two course times will be offered from 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 2:45-9:45 p.m.

To register, visit The tuition cost is $163 and scholarships are available on an as needed basis through the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County. The scholarship application can be obtained by contacting the Alliance office at 903-509-8323 or emailing If applying for a scholarship do not complete the online registration.