By Janet Goetze
For the Hollywood Star News
Chuck expected to pursue his woodworking hobby into his retirement years, he said, while his wife, a long-time teacher, operated a daycare center in their home.
But those plans changed drastically a couple of years ago when his wife was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Jerry, a widower who married a widow and had nine happy years with her, now visits his wife a couple times a week at a memory care center. She has told him he looks familiar, Jerry said, but she can’t remember his name.
Both men, who asked not to be identified by their real names to protect family privacy, are gaining emotional support and information in an ongoing Alzheimer’s caregivers’ support group that meets the third Sunday of each month from 2-3:30 p.m. at the Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 N.E. 40th Ave. An additional ongoing mid-week support group meets from 1-3 p.m. the second Wednesday of each month.
The Wednesday group has been meeting for several years, said Vivian Foster, the center coordinator. The newer group meeting on third Sundays is for people who can’t attend mid-week meetings, usually because of employment schedules, Foster said.
Rachel Levy, the volunteer convener for the Sunday group, has undergone training with the local Alzheimer’s Association office. She became interested in working with the association because her stepfather has Alzheimer’s. Her mother works from home and cares for him, Levy said, but other family members assist her.
Today, about 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. It is the sixth cause of death in the United States – ahead of breast and prostate cancer combined, according to the association’s website.
Dr. Alois Alzheimer identified the characteristics of the dementia bearing his name in 1906, according to RM Healthy, a health information website. One characteristic is plaques, which are many tiny, dense protein deposits throughout the brain that become toxic over time. The other is “tangles” of nerve cells that interfere with vital processes and eventually kill off living cells. As brain cells break down and die, brain scans show that the organ appears to shrink in some areas.
Most people know that memory loss is a characteristic of Alzheimer’s. However, its most pronounced effect is the inability to retain new information because portions of the brain involved in learning are affected, according to RM Healthy. Older memories usually are retained in early phases of the disease but begin to fade as the condition progresses.
Over time, familiar tasks – forgetting to turn off the stove or pay bills – may become a problem. Visual issues, including illusions or misconceptions, may occur as portions of the brain governing sight become affected. Other symptoms include loss of fine motor skills and trouble with conversation or speech. And, of course, there’s the proverbial loss of keys and, worse, the inability to find the way home if the patient goes for a walk.
Caregivers often face changes in plans for their own lives and changes in the family member’s personality. Chuck has enlisted neighbors – and especially the children – to watch out for his wife when he’s not home.
“Little kids are the best,” he said. “They check in on her. They totally get it. I get calls if the kids think something is up. Their mom calls. People are often glad to do one small thing to help if they understand the situation.”
Giving up driving, which requires a complicated series of decisions and reactions, can be a power struggle for some families affected by Alzheimer’s, Levy said. Some ask the patient’s physician to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles that he or she shouldn’t be driving. Chuck solved the problem by having a private driving evaluator examine his wife’s abilities. The evaluator recommended that she give up her car immediately, Chuck said.
For Jerry, the Sunday caregivers’ meeting is a place to share some of his feelings and experiences. “Friends don’t want to know that my wife is still not improving,” he said. “It’s difficult because you remember the good times, and it’s not good now.”
Chuck said the meetings help him cope with the stress of caring for someone whose strongest memories are from times before they met but who can’t remember details of an enjoyable, nine-day trip they took last month.
For more information, call the Alzheimer’s Association 24-hour helpline at 800-272-3900 or visit www.alz.org or email gro.z1488210833la@no1488210833geroz1488210833laofn1488210833i1488210833. For
information from educator Teepa Snow, visit www.teepasnow.com.