Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Pat Kaplan, of Palm Desert, is determined to make a difference in the lives of Coachella Valley residents suffering from dementia—and the loved ones caring for them.

The oldest of six girls, Kaplan, 71, remembers her father, an attorney, ran the household “like a courtroom. I think he was afraid of making wrong decisions, having six girls to raise. He did teach me that anything I wanted, I could have it, but I’d have to work for it. He’d say, ‘Nobody’s going to give it to you,’

“My mom was a physical therapist who always told me that regardless of what I did growing up, she knew I was a good person—that even if she might be disappointed in what I did, it was only ‘because I know you’re better than that.’

“My folks were both devout Catholics, and I went to Catholic schools all the way through my first two years of college. I then spent my last two years at a public university, majoring in sociology.”

Born and raised in San Jose, Kaplan met her husband while she was attending school in Santa Barbara. Her husband at the time was a helicopter pilot, working for private companies.

“I started out working in the insurance industry, working a day shift and going to school at night,” she says. “My husband was working the night shift. He used to work on a ‘time on/time off’ schedule, and we were both used to having time apart and enjoying the time we spent together. It’s the same now: We do different things that we each enjoy doing, and we enjoy our time together as well.”

They married in 1970, so the arrangement has worked well.

“We settled in Seattle, my husband’s home turf, but eventually got tired of nine months of rain,” she says. “We kept our house in Seattle but spent summers here in the desert. We came back each year, and after three years, we sold our house and have been here permanently since 1989.”

The couple invested in two homes in Palm Springs that had been built for elder care.

“Once we came to Palm Springs,” says Kaplan, “I envisioned that we’d just be taking care of people who couldn’t live at home anymore—but I was told we needed to take care of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. I started doing research, and what I really learned is that the first residents you get will teach you everything you need to know.”

Kaplan went on to study gerontology at UC Riverside.

“We sold the homes in 2004, and I became a consultant at Vista Cove in Rancho Mirage. I also do a lot of volunteer work now with Alzheimer’s Coachella Valley, a nonprofit organization that began in 2017,” she said; Kaplan was a co-founder and serves on the board. “We had a group including registered nurses, social workers, therapists, activity directors and even a chef to brainstorm ideas about what was needed in the Coachella Valley.

“We felt it was important to establish a local place that could offer the kind of programs people really need. The national Alzheimer’s Association raises money and focuses on research to find a cure, but caregivers—primarily spouses and children—need help with what they’re facing on a day-to-day basis. We began offering programs in January 2018.”

ACV offers an eight-week program that meets each Friday, “Traveling the Journey Together,” where patients and caregivers spend one hour together, and then spend an hour apart. Patients get stimulating activities while caregivers learn skills that can improve their adjustment to what is possible rather than what is lost. Another program, “Club Journey,” meets each Tuesday for three hours and is focused on social interaction, as well as activities like music, games, sing-alongs, exercise, bingo, conversation, crafts and more; it includes snacks and lunch. ACV also trains caregivers and offers support groups. There is no cost to participants.

“Even if someone hasn’t been officially diagnosed,” says Kaplan, “the person living with them can see what they are going through, and needs help coping with the changes they’re encountering.”

What is the best way to find out if a dementia diagnosis is warranted?

“The first stop should be a neurologist,” says Kaplan. “A regular internist or primary caregiver can then follow up to monitor related medical care and oversee medications. There are drug-trial programs where companies are researching drugs that can delay or minimize symptoms, but those drug trials have stringent requirements about who can participate, and there’s a lot of oversight needed, (like) keeping records (and) monitoring ongoing testing. It’s not easy for the caregivers, and it may or may not help.”

Kaplan says state and federal policies need to adapt to an aging population. “We need to enact medical programs that cover stay-at-home and long-term care,” she says. “Under Medicare, you get 21 days in a skilled nursing facility after a surgery or accident, but we need coverage for at-home care, and for day-care programs where a patient can get skilled care while their caregiver gets some time off knowing the patient is in a safe place. There are only two such places in the Coachella Valley, and lots of people just can’t afford it.”

Pat Kaplan’s advice to anyone dealing with a loved one with symptoms of dementia: “You have to think creatively, and realize you don’t speak the same language the patient does. Obviously, you need a lot of patience, and there is a lot to learn about how to communicate effectively. Don’t buy into the stereotypes and negativity about people with cognitive impairment.

“When someone has cancer, we know they didn’t choose that. It’s the same with dementia. Focus on the opportunities that are still there. Is dementia a horrible disease? Yes. But there’s still a person inside, and that’s what you need to focus on.”

Pat Kaplan is focused on making a difference in the Coachella Valley—and she is succeeding.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

How do you start up something new? No matter how worthy the cause, you need individuals who see a need and are willing to volunteer a substantial amount of time to satisfy that need.

A local coalition has cropped up committed to creating a “Dementia-Friendly Coachella Valley,” composed of individuals who represent local nonprofit organizations, those diagnosed with or caring for someone with a dementia-related disease (like Alzheimer’s), medical professionals and interested citizens.

The DF-CV group recently sponsored the first Dementia-Friendly Café as a way to expand awareness that those living with a diagnosis of a dementia-related disease are still able to enjoy life, socialize and be in a public setting without fear. They wanted to create a “safe space” in which people could come together for a purely social event.

What is a safe space? To me, it’s a place where one can be truly oneself, relaxed and able to be fully expressive without fear of ridicule, judgment, embarrassment or stigmatization based on sex, race, ethnicity, orientation, religion, age, physical disability or any other arbitrary characteristic.

Cathy Greenblat, author of Love, Loss, and Laughter—Seeing Alzheimer’s Differently, was the catalyst for the coalition after the exhibit in Palm Desert of her remarkable photographs of patients with dementia-related diseases in state-of-the-art treatment facilities.

Dee Wieringa, executive director of the new Stonewall Gardens in Palm Springs, made the arrangements for the café with Albert Morales, manager at PF Chang's China Bistro at The River. Morales was enthusiastic about the idea.

“Our company is always telling us to get involved with our community,” he said.

A dining room at the restaurant would be set aside from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Those attending could order off the menu if they chose to, get drinks at the bar, or just socialize with others who could relate.

Rupert Macnee, a filmmaker who lives in Rancho Mirage, did the first draft of a flier. With minimal tweaking, it was ready to distribute online, at hospital rounds and on counters and bulletin boards at businesses and organizations throughout the Coachella Valley.

Pat Kaplan, of Palm Desert, one of the honorary co-chairs of the 15th annual Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s, came up with the idea of coalition participants wearing purple ribbons, typically an Alzheimer’s disease symbol, so those attending the café would know whom to ask if they had questions or concerns. She greeted attendees warmly, and generally acted as the unofficial hostess.

Other coalition participants who worked the room included Anne Gimbel, regional director of the Alzheimer’s Association; John Wisor, of Palm Springs; Kae Hammond, executive director of the Dementia Help Center and the author of a definitive book, Pathways: A Guidebook for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers (if you need answers and guidance, this is THE book); Soo Borson, a geriatric psychiatrist; and yours truly, who prints nicely and thus did the name tags.

The expectation was that if we could turn out 15 to 20 people on our first outing, that would be a good start. We wanted to learn what the community needs—and what the community will respond to—when it comes to the potentially touchy subject of dementia. Imagine our surprise when more than 50 people showed up! The staff at Chang’s brought in extra tables, added another waitperson, and generally made it a good experience. People were sitting with others they didn’t already know, making new acquaintances, sharing stories and laughing. There was a lot of laughing.

Two women who attended came alone, without their husbands who are living with dementia-related diagnoses. The wives, being sensitive to what their husbands might require, wanted to make sure it would be a safe space. They were thrilled and plan to bring their husbands to the next café. Other attendees included people from all over the valley, ranging in age from their 40s to their 80s—daughters and sons, caregivers, spouses and live-in partners, gay and straight, long-time and new desert residents. It was a noisy, fun, purely social couple of hours with good food, good company and the comfort of a safe space. One attendee described it as “warm and fuzzy.”

The next Dementia-Friendly Café is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 3, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Chang’s. Morales is eagerly looking forward to making everyone comfortable, and the coalition members are planning to spread the word far and wide.

How do you start something new? You come together with people who know how to get things done—people who genuinely care about the issue you’re addressing, people who make time in busy schedules, people who are your neighbors. When’s the last time you got involved in something new?

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors