JOHN DAY - A Portland-based psychiatric nurse will offer a free program in John Day about the stages of dementia and­ signs of depression in the elderly.

The session will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27, at Valley View Assisted Living Community. The presentation will last about an hour and there will be time for questions.

It is open to the public, and organizers said the information is aimed to help a broad range of people better understand the needs of the elderly. Jennifer Draney, community sales manager for Valley View, said the target audience includes people with elderly relatives, medical professionals, and members of law enforcement who may become involved with elderly citizens.

The featured speaker is Heike Sommer, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner with a versatile background and a focus on geriatric psychiatry. She has practiced nursing in three countries, with experience in internal medicine, emergency room care and oncology.

She currently is in private practice in downtown Portland, where she treats adults age 18-65, and she also works with adults age 65 and older in an Oregon Health & Science University outpatient clinic.

In the John Day presentation, she will discuss the signs of dementia, as well as ways to communicate with elderly relatives to help them with critical decisions about safety and health as they age.

"How do you approach your parent and tell them they can't drive anymore? These are the kinds of things she can help with," said Susan Kelso, admininstrator at Valley View.

Draney said a better understanding of elderly mental health issues can help family members with a range of issues.

"We think it can bring comfort and peace of mind to people who may not know what to do," she said.

Valley View staff also will be on hand to provide information about its services, but Kelso said that's not the intent of the seminar.

"There's no obligation," she said. "This is just part of our mission of community education."

There will be refreshments. People who plan to attend are asked to RSVP to Valley View at 575-3533.

People also are encouraged to call Valley View to learn more about their options for elderly housing and resources for assistance - "even if it's not about coming to Valley View," said Draney. "We can help them find home health and other resources they may not know about."

Valley View provides assisted living services, with residents living in apartments but with access to a dining room and transportation, medication and other support services. Other facilities in the local area offer other levels of services for the elderly, from full nursing care to elder-care residences and home nursing visitation.

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