Bonnie Shehan, a nurse who has worked in health facilities in the Bartholomew and Johnson County areas for more than 20 years, is being honored for creating a kit that helps families who care for relatives with Alzheimer’s disease.
The Edinburgh resident put together a collection of safety devices, including door alarms, drawer locks, motion sensors and room monitors.
The kit also includes a packet of information with some of the most frequently asked questions about the disease, plus answers caregivers sometimes are hesitant to ask their doctors about intimacy and violent behavior.
“Being a nurse was wonderful, but I wanted to do more,” said Shehan, who through her job often came into contact with families struggling with the challenges of dementia care.
Shehan was recognized last week in Dallas as part of a national effort by Sam’s Club and SCORE, a nonprofit business resource, to support the growth and success of U.S. small businesses.
Shehan’s startup business, Alzheimer’s Home Safety Network, was one of two from Indiana, and two from each state, selected to attend the expenses-paid, two-day seminar, where they received training on attracting customers, branding, online marketing and developing sales plans. Each winner also received a $1,000 gift card to Sam’s Club to purchase business items.
Shehan’s goal was to help families keep loved ones at home as long as possible.
With such rapid growth in the number of people with Alzheimer’s, Shehan saw an important need. She said she’s not trying to replace services offered by the Alzheimer’s Association or other agencies, just offering help in a different way.
Shehan, who has worked at Columbus Regional Hospital, Columbus Health and Rehabilitation Center and for Drs. Charles Rau and David Rau in Columbus, wanted to use her nursing experience in a new way.
She believed by gathering a collection of important safety items, plus basic information on Alzheimer’s, that she could offer easy access to what families needed in one place. Shehan sells her AlzSafe Home Safety Kits for $279.95.
The responsibility of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be physically and emotionally draining, and two-thirds of caregivers die before their loved ones, Shehan said.
“They fail to take time to care for themselves,” she said.
Many families also cannot afford the cost of nursing home care, which can average about $86,000 a year, she added.
Shehan took her original business idea to the Raus to gather their input, and she sought advice from SCORE mentors.
David Rau said Shehan was on target from the beginning to address the needs of patients and families.
“It was right on for being patient-centered and focused on safety and right on for providing emotional support for caregivers,” Rau said.
SCORE, with the support of the U.S. Small Business Administration, has chapters across the U.S. with retired business executives who volunteer their time to offer free advice to people looking to start or grow a business.
Shehan worked with SCORE volunteers Bob Nelson and Fred Nerz from the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce office.
Nelson said he and Nerz met with Shehan many times in the past year as they listened to her initial business idea and helped her refine the plan.
“At first we suggested she do some more research to see if anyone else had done this before and helped put her business plan in order and down on paper,” said Nelson, retired president of the Indiana Bankers Association.
“She had a lot of good experience working with Alzheimer’s patients, and she had good ideas. Her main thing was she wanted to be helpful to caregivers.”
Although Shehan’s background led her to focus on helping families with Alzheimer’s patients, she believes the home safety products also could be useful for those dealing with other illnesses, such as autism or Parkinson’s disease.
She also hopes to work with manufacturers to repackage safety products without photos of babies on them. Even though Alzheimer’s patients are regressing to their youth, Shehan said, caregivers don’t want to treat them like children; they want to show them love and respect.