Dementia to be explored in film screening, panel discussion at UMC Ludington

September 6, 2023

Dementia to be explored in film screening, panel discussion at UMC Ludington

PERE MARQUETTE TOWNSHIP — The United Methodist Church of Ludington, 5810 W. Bryant Rd., will host a screening of one woman’s journey with dementia, “Betty’s Story” on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 1 p.m. Following the film will be a panel discussion. 

Betty Smith, a former Ludington UMC associate pastor, is the subject of the video. Smith, who also served many other Michigan UMC congregations, will be part of the panel. She will be joined by Bill Biergans, her husband and caregiver, and dementia expert Chris Simons from Clark Home in Grand Rapids, where Smith and Biergans have resided since 2019

The event is being offered as a resource for the community, particularly for families struggling with a recent diagnosis.

“Creating this video is an opportunity to raise awareness, reduce the stigma and advocate for those living with this terrible disease,” Smith said. “We can’t change where we are right now, but we can change how we get there if we change peoples’ attitudes. If I can help one person or family, this will be one of the most important things I’ve done.”

Shame, fearfulness, and misunderstanding are often associated with memory loss. Many choose to hide their diagnosis for as long as possible. Smith chose a different path. She resolved to move through the journey with as much strength as possible and shared the news with her family from the beginning. 

“I knew I was going to need all the support I could get, and our children are my strength. But I don’t know what I’d do without Bill,” she said.

“Betty often has hallucinations, and we openly talk about them,” Biergans said. “Sometimes we laugh about them, and sometimes we cry.”

Smith and Biergans also told friends and neighbors early on.

“Getting friends and family involved early on is extremely important, along with education and participation in support groups,” said Simons. 

A confidant, friend and advisor to the couple, Simon knew Betty’s story needed to be shared. It was decided to create a video documentary of her journey. 

Not only did Betty Smith once serve as an associate pastor at UMC Ludington years ago, the Rev. Hillary Thurston-Cox, current UMC pastor, said Smith is her mentor and friend, making the story even more personal. 

Another compelling reason prompted Thurston-Cox to bring the video and panel discussion to Ludington.

“One of our congregants came to me and has a diagnosis of dementia,” she said. “The first thing I did was call my friend Betty, who is going through dementia herself. She has been guiding people at the Clark home, even as they go through dementia into a more positive space. 

“There’s still so much more you can do, even with having this diagnosis. I really felt if we could bring her here and bring Chris, who is her dementia doctor to our community, it would be a great resource for our families that are here who are struggling. I don’t want people to feel isolated and alone in this. One of our jobs as a church is to reach out the community and provide resources and care in situations like this one.”