Nancy Pertl, of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., recognized an absence of tools to help family caregivers navigate the complexity of Alzheimer’s disease in her own community. So she built them—not only to fulfill a local need, but with the utility to serve broader audiences.
For Pertl’s efforts to tackle dementia on both the small and big scale, and for her demonstrated passion to advance dementia education, Dementia Care Professionals of America, a division of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, named Pertl as its 2013 “Dementia Care Professional of the Year” Thursday.
Pertl, aging services coordinator at Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee in Nashville, also mentors college interns with an interest in aging. In all her endeavors, she brings the perspective of living with Alzheimer’s disease in her own family.
“Knowing that I make a difference each and every day is the most rewarding part of this job for me,” said Pertl. “Most people are crying when they arrive at our offices or call on the phone, but by the time they leave, they are laughing.”
This is the seventh year that DCPA has honored an individual “who has demonstrated professional excellence in care, compassionate performance that exceeds expectations, and a dedicated commitment” to people with Alzheimer’s disease or related illnesses.
“Through her commitment and care, Nancy Pertl has demonstrated that one person can effect change that extends well beyond the borders of her own community,” said Carol Steinberg, AFA’s president. “Not only is she helping families get through Alzheimer’s disease now, she has also taken her passion one step further by helping to guide the next generation of healthcare professionals.”
In 2002, MHAMT hired Pertl, who has a degree in social work, as the coordinator of its in-home respite care program for families of individuals with dementia, called HOMES. She quickly rose through the ranks, creating various educational programs to empower caregivers to provide appropriate and sensitive care.
This is not the first award Pertl has received for her commitment to educating caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or related illnesses. MHAMT named her “Innovator of the Year 2010-2011” for her development of “Just the Facts,” a four-part series that prepares family caregivers for the joys and challenges of such illnesses and emphasizes that “it’s OK to ask for help.”
She also created an in-home care consultations program to provide one-on-one education and assistance to help family caregivers develop coping skills. And, with her expertise sought out throughout Tennessee, she has designed and delivered countless presentations to healthcare professionals and family caregivers statewide.
Diane Gramann, manager of program services at MHAMT and Pertl’s supervisor, nominated Pertl for the award.
“It takes someone very special to help calm fears and guide families through this devastating illness,” said Gramann. “Nancy is that kind of person. Even in large groups, people have a sense that she is speaking just to them.”
Pertl’s experience has helped her on the personal side, as well. Her mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago.
“I looked at [discussing the condition with family members] as a teaching moment and an opportunity to help them the way I help the caregivers in our programs,” said Pertl.
DCPA offers membership, training, qualification and other benefits to dementia care professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers, home health aides and therapists. DCPA has trained more than 6,300 professionals since the division was founded in 2004. For more information, visit careprofessionals.org.