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Helping Hands : The Mruk Center on Aging’s fight against dementia

Baxter Regional Medical Center is a great hospital.

Its facilities rival other larger hospitals like Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock, and Saint Louis University Hospital in Saint Louis, Missouri.

And Baxter Regional does it while being located in one of the more remote areas of the South.

Yet, Baxter Regional isn’t alone in its fight to provide top-notch support to its patient. The hospital is joined by the various support houses that line the hospital’s emergency room parking lot.

With the help of these support houses, Baxter Regional can ensure that its patients are receiving the information and support they need to make it through their medical treatments and life style changes.

These support houses include the Mruk Family Education Center on Aging (MFECOA), Peitz Cancer Support House, Schliemann Center for Women’s Health Education, and the Reppell Diabetes Learning Center.

With the upcoming Rock the Barn fundraising event for the MFECOA right around the corner on April 23, the Mountain Home Observer connected with the coordinators from each support house for a four-part series to learn about the history, services and focuses of each house.

In part one of this series, the Observer sat down with Diahanne VanGulick, the Mruk Family Education Center on Aging Coordinator, to learn more about how MFECOA started over a decade ago.

Mruk Family Education Center on Aging

The building that would eventually become the Mruk Family Education Center on Aging initially began as one of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Schmieding Centers.

The Schmeiding Center gets its name from Lawrence Schmeiding, who endowed the UAMS with a 20-year endowment in 1998 with the sole purpose of 20-year to construct and operate the first Center on Aging in the state, the Schmieding Center for Senior Health and Education.

Schmeiding became interested in learning more about the effects of aging on the body and caring for those who are elderly after his brother began to show signs of advanced aging, prompting Schmeiding to begin the long and difficult search for a caregiver.

Through his endowment, UAMS created the Schmeiding Home Caregiver Training program to fulfill Mr. Schmieding’s quest to train caregivers to professionally provide one-on-one personalized assistance that helps older adults stay healthy, happy, and safely at home.

After some time, UAMS pulled the Schmeiding Center from Baxter County, leaving the responsibility of maintaining an aging center with Baxter Regional, who would manage the home for a few years before Paul and Janet Mruk approached the hospital in 2009 about setting about an endowment for the house.

The Mruk Family Education Center on Aging was born.  

“They had a passion for helping seniors in our area,” said Diahanne VanGulick, coordinator for the MFECOA. “In particular, because of family members with Alzheimer’s disease. They wanted something here that would meet the needs of people in our community that were dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia’s.”

Diahanne VanGulick sits outside of the Mruk Family Education Center on Aging. Photo by Chris Fulton/MHO.

Today, the MFECOA is managed by VanGulick and her support staff. In 2015, VanGulick was named the Mruk Family Education Center on Aging Coordinator in July 2015, bringing a wealth of experience in health education, preventative health care, and event planning to her new role.

Before the MFECOA, VanGulick worked for Baxter Regional as the Continuing Medical Education/Basic Life Support Coordinator in the Education Department and recently as a Patient Registrar in Patient Financial Services.

She also spent time in Kansas City, Missouri, where she worked as an event assistant and health educator at a company that provides health screenings and ongoing health education for corporations. She has been a certified American Heart Association Basic Life Support and First Aid Instructor for over 20 years.

“We are here to help the seniors in our community live healthier, more independent, active lives,” VanGulick said. “We’re also here to help support their families that are taking care of them.”

Infographic by MFECOA.

VanGulick said the need for an aging center has never been higher in Mountain Home. The last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have seen a sharp rise in dementia cases amongst seniors in the community.

According to VanGulick, the MFECOA is now taking on three to five new clients every week seeking assistance with dementia and aging.

“We have noticed an increase since the pandemic started actually,” VanGulick said. “We’re not sure why exactly. It could have something to do with the isolation, and it’s causing dementia to surface.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Services National Institute on Aging states that dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, and reasoning — to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities.

According to the NIA, some people with dementia cannot control their emotions, and their personalities may change, and dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of living.

Dementia is more common as people grow older, about one-third of all people aged 85 or older may have some form of dementia, but it is not a normal part of aging. Many people live into their 90s and beyond without any signs of dementia.

To help assist those in the early stages of dementia, MFECOA offers a Dementia 101 class every week on Thursday and a monthly support group class for families and caregivers on the fourth Thursday of every month.

MFECOA has also started a new support group for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.

“We had our first one in December,” VanGulick said. “At our meeting in December, we had one lady that was 80 years old, taking care of a 10-year-old granddaughter. We talked about the challenges of being older and taking care of a young person, and she said she has to plan ahead. If she’s going to get down on the floor and wrestle with her grandchild, she has to make sure she’s near a couch or chair for when she gets up off the floor. You don’t think about that kind of stuff.”

A full list of MFECOA services include:

  •     Journey to Healthy Aging seminars
  •     Positive Approach to Care Workshops
  •     AARP Driver Safety
  •     Talking to Your Doctor
  •     Self Defense for Seniors
  •     Dementia Friendly Community Program
  •     Dementia Caregiver Toolbox

    Education and support groups

  •     Resource library
  •     Exercise programs for men and women
  •     Lunch and Learn programs
  •     Rock Steady Boxing (A non-contact boxing exercise to fight back against Parkinson’s Disease)

The center also offers Helpline, a free directory of medical resources in the surrounding areas, as well as AARP driving courses, fitness classes, and Rock Steady Boxing, a weekly boxing class for seniors.

“We also have a purple caregiver toolbox, and it has a number of resources in it related to dementia,” VanGulick said. “So if a family member or friend comes in, and they’re looking for literature on dementia, we give them one of these boxes, and they can walk out with it. We’ve had that for several years, and people regularly comment on how helpful it is to be able to carry something like that out with you.”

Photo by the MFECOA.

The seventh annual Rock the Barn fundraiser benefiting the Mruk Family Education Center is scheduled for Saturday, April 23, at 5 p.m. at the Baxter Regional Wellness Education Center.

The Baxter Regional Wellness Education Center is located at 2545 Highway 5 North in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Tickets are available now, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Mruk Family Education Center on Aging for $30 or 2 for $50. Tickets can also be purchased online by searching Rock the Barn 2022 on

Each ticket grants you access to all of the night’s events, including live music with The Kattie Laney Project, a silent auction, cake walk, 50/50 drawing, and program exhibits. Anstaff Bank will provide barbecue, and beer and wine will also be available.

Rock the Barn proceeds benefit programs and services at the Mruk Family Education Center on Aging of Baxter Regional Medical Center. If you cannot attend the event, please consider making a donation to the Mruk Family Education Center on Aging to continue providing community education and support. For more information, visit or call (870) 508-3880.

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