Solidarity through support

Seeing the developing signs of Alzheimer's disease in a loved one can be a draining experience.

Affecting more than 5 million Americans yearly, the disease's effects go deep into families and communities. Washington has about 100,000 residents living with the disease.

"It can be harder on families than on the individual," said Kathy Burrer, administrator at Dungeness Courte Alzheimer's Community.

Burrer has been leading a caregiver's support group in Sequim for two years.

The support group serves many roles for the caregivers. Every meeting has new attendees mixed in with the old so conversation can turn toward answering questions, sharing stories and/or consoling one another.

Newcomer Rich Faircloth had a lot of questions for the group at the Feb. 12 meeting, but he first wanted strategies for helping his wife take her pills.

New and old participants gladly chimed in a few suggestions such as trying a small spoon, mixing the pills with juices or milk shakes, and/or telling them that the medicine will help their memory.

Perspectives are all different as caregivers are wives, husbands, brothers, daughters and/or long-time friends.

Al Burge, one of the longest attending participants, is married to Joan, who has had the disease for 15 years.

"It is emotionally devastating and financially devastating," Burge said.

He is able to come to the group because he has a caretaker watch Joan one day a week. When she was originally diagnosed, his insurance allowed him to have constant care, giving him more free time, but after five years the policy ran out.

Burge makes an effort to come to the meetings because they are therapeutic.

"Take care of yourself first because who else can take of her if you die or are hurt?" he asked.

Faircloth was thankful for the group's ideas, but he was concerned he couldn't free himself to come monthly to the group because his wife is going through a stage of extreme attachment.

"Tell her to volunteer to help out," Burrer said to Faircloth.

Burrer explained that simply saying that you need to go do something for him/her goes over well if the loved one feels they can help out by not coming.

She also recommended Dungeness Courte Alzheimer's Community, which offers a daycare program. Call 582-9309 for more information.

Burrer always brings a topic to the group with packets and resources provided by the Alzheimer's Association. At the February meeting they discussed planning for emergencies.

Members spoke about items they keep for disasters, such as first aid kits, water, canned and high energy food, extra medications, surplus cash, linens and incontinence supplies.

Communication with emergency relief was an essential part of the discussion, too. They advised one another on CB and ham radios.

"It doesn't take you long to make you realize what you forgot," Burge said.

Discussions don't always focus on the topic at hand. Burrer makes a point to do a roundtable so that everyone's concerns, questions and stories can be shared.

Group members might have loved ones in different stages of dementia, but there seemed to be at least one person who could relate to everything being said.

"Living with someone with Alzheimer's is being on a scavenger hunt without any clues," Burrer said, quoting Burge.

The Alzheimer's support group will meet March 12 and will discuss depression in the caregiver and loved one. The group is free and always open to new people. Contact Kathy Burrer at Dungeness Courte or

A support group in Port Angeles is available at 9:30 a.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Port Angeles Senior Center, 328 E. Seventh St. Contact Mardell Xavier at 477-5511 for more information.

More can be found on Alzheimer's disease at or by calling the 24-7 hotline at 800-848-7097.

Matthew Nash can be reached at mnash@sequim

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