THE ISSUE: Coping With Dementia’s virtual conference.

OUR OPINION: A valuable resource for the community.

Debbie Selsavage has been on a mission since her late-husband Albert was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. At the time, Selsavage found it almost impossible to find information about how to deal with the disease as a caregiver. Since then, she has made it her life’s work to change that. She started Coping with Dementia LLC in 2015 to give loved ones and caregivers support and guidance in dealing with the debilitating disease. Her website says one in nine Americans older than 65 has Alzheimer’s disease, and she is determined they don’t become a statistic.

Since 2014, the Citrus County-based Coping with Dementia has organized an annual conference for family care partners, but this year’s was the first virtual event broadcast internationally through Zoom and live on Facebook. With funding by Citrus nonprofit Dementia Education Inc. and other sponsors, the conference was free and open to the public.

Though COVID changed the conference to a virtual setting, it made it easier for more people to attend and allowed for an instantly accessible international audience.

The conference drew 770 participants and featured 16 hours of educational sessions over four days that included presentations by more than two dozen experts in various aspects of dementia, and feature Positive Approach to Care founder Teepa Snow as keynote speaker.

The turnout for the conference is a loud and clear message to our community that there is a significant need for more understanding and more services available for both dementia patients and their caregivers. Selsavage is a trailblazer and knows what she’s doing. She has the resources and knowledge to make a real difference for those who are struggling with caregiving.

Perhaps, given the success of the virtual conference, the annual event could morph into permanent virtual training.

Citrus County is in the center of the demographic dealing with dementia, and Selsavage has done a remarkable job educating people about it.

Her innovative and vanguard initiative certainly deserves applause.

Selsavage is a proponent of “Hug Therapy,” and says the therapeutic power of hugging can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness and fear. Citrus County owes Selsavage a big virtual hug for her tireless work helping others.