By Ernie Williamson
She had worked hard her entire life, but Brenda Maust feels it wasn’t until she discovered something in retirement that her life became more “productive.”
While working as a health care volunteer in Angleton after retiring, Maust spotted a problem: Brazoria County offered few resources for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
So, in 2007, this senior citizen began what has turned out to be a years-long crusade to develop community-based programs to battle Alzheimer’s.
Now, 15 years later, she has founded two non-profit organizations, created educational programs on brain health and started an Alzheimer’s screening program that has been the largest of its kind in the country.
Despite limited mobility, the 82-year-old Maust still spends up to 16 hours a day working from home, creating new programs to fight Alzheimer’s, writing lesson plans, recruiting and training volunteers, doing research and fielding phone calls.
“This is the most productive thing I have done,” says Maust. “I know that what we are doing is benefiting people.”
The Alzheimer’s Association says more than 6 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, including 1 in 9 Americans age 65 and over.
The latest Alzheimer’s Association report shows 5,096 Brazoria Countians suffer from the disorder, and another 3,800 have mild cognitive impairments.
Maust was recently recognized for her contributions when the first non-profit she founded - The Brazoria County Gathering Place Interfaith Ministries - celebrated 15 years of service.
It wasn’t the first time Maust’s work has been recognized. She was named Brazoria County Citizen of the Year in 2012, and the Gathering Place received an award from the state as the top wellness program implemented by volunteers.
Maust says the community has been generous with its support and praise, but I suggest a review of her accomplishments indicates she may be under-appreciated.
Maust started The Gathering Place in 2007 to provide a respite to caregivers of people with dementia and to educate the public about neurological diseases that affect memory.
The Gathering Place is a public health charity and United Way partner. Its services are free.
Partnering with churches in the county, experienced volunteers provide activities, games and a hot lunch for those with memory impairments.
The program started with nine volunteers and one church and now has 115 volunteers and 8 churches participating. A ninth church is scheduled to join the program in January.
As CEO of the Gathering Place, Maust expanded the mission by adding new programs, including Brain Camp, a 4-week program on maximizing brain health, and the Brazoria County Alzheimer’s Awareness Project, a community screening effort done in collaboration with libraries, churches and senior centers with the help of health care providers and civic organizations.
Maust retired as CEO of the Gathering Place in 2017, and Dale Libby, her successor, has nothing but praise for her.
“None of this would have gotten done if it hadn’t been for Brenda,” he says.
Not content with creating one non-profit, Maust in 2016 created Early Stage Coaches. An affiliate of the Gathering Place, Early Stage Coaches offers lifestyle coaching to early stage patients to slow the progression or reverse symptoms of some types of Alzheimer’s disease.
Maust offers as an example an Angleton man who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 78, made lifestyle changes and is still able to drive at age 84.
Based on her research, I asked Maust which three lifestyle guidelines she would follow to avoid Alzheimer’s or slow its progression. She didn’t hesitate.
1. Diet: Avoid foods that cause inflammation, such as sugars and red meat.
2. Walking: Physical activity is an important part of healthy aging.
3. Reading and writing: Keep the mind active and engaged.
Not even the pandemic has slowed Maust down. Realizing Covid-19 meant many Alzheimer’s patients were isolated at home, she started CompU. Talk Zoom School for the memory impaired. Volunteers serve as teachers and production crews to help homebound students maintain or improve memory using computers.
Maust admits she sometimes takes on too much but says she “succeeds at most, fails at some.”
But it certainly has been a productive life that has benefited the county.
(Contact Ernie at email@example.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)