By Kelly McKillip
Eliminating Alzheimer’s disease through research, support and preventative care is the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association. In an effort to fulfill their vision of a world without Alzheimer’s, more than 600 communities across the nation participate in the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
Although there have been previous walks in the Sequim area, the North Olympic Peninsula (NOP) Walk to End Alzheimer’s will kick off its first annual event at the Boys & Girls Club on Saturday, Sept. 29.
Event coordinator and Discovery Memory Care Community Relations Director Pam Scott says that 100 percent of the proceeds from the walk will go to the Alzheimer’s Association. There will be something for everyone at the fun event, no matter the age or physical ability. A 2.3-mile hike is planned for those who are able, plus a 0.7-mile walk and a shuttle bus. Food, music, water stations and door prizes will be on scene throughout the day’s festivities. Individuals and families are encouraged to join in and are welcome to bring canine companions on leashes. Local companies are invited to become sponsors, with several beneficial rewards for their businesses such as placement of vendor tables.
The long goodbye
What makes the awareness and fundraising goals of the Walk so critical is the devastating nature of this deadly disease.
According to the Washington Alzheimer’s Association, 5.4 million people are living with this form of dementia, often without receiving the care that could greatly improve the quality of their lives. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Unlike other illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and HIV, which have shown a steady decline in death rates, the incidence of Alzheimer’s is skyrocketing. If nothing is done to curtail the current trajectory, 16 million Americans will be affected by 2050. The staggering cost to care for individuals with this disease is projected to be $200 billion this year alone. The cost of human suffering is incalculable.
There are many factors involved in the escalating and complicated nature of Alzheimer’s disease. The percentage of older Americans continues to increase. An aging population is more susceptible to the condition, although early Alzheimer’s that occurs before age 60 also is on the rise. There are few fears worse than losing one’s mental faculties and people avoid getting help because of the stigma involved. More than 1 in 7 individuals with Alzheimer’s live alone, unable to care for themselves adequately. Any co-existing maladies such as diabetes or heart disease are much more difficult to manage when dementia is a factor. Medicare costs are three times higher for patients with Alzheimer’s.
All forms of dementia not only have a devastating effect on the victims, but also their loved ones. It only takes a few minutes in the company of a family member who has cared for someone with Alzheimer’s to realize that this disease is one of the most heart-breaking and difficult conditions to manage, especially without professional assistance. Feelings of shame and embarrassment often cause withdrawal from daily activities, which lead to further isolation and a worsening quality of life. Personalities change. A sweet-natured person who has been honest all his or her life may develop hostile behavior and engage in activities such as shoplifting.
Losing a loved one twice
Individuals with this deadly disease begin to lose their memories in a retrograde manner. Parents forget their own children, often only remembering earlier relationships such as siblings or their own parents. Discovery Memory Care’s executive director, Sheila Linde, remembers the shock of calling her father in England and after 10 minutes realizing that he didn’t have any idea who she was. The generation of elderly people alive today tend to be highly self-sufficient and often resist seeking help and care for a spouse with memory loss. Linde watched as her mom lost 80 pounds during the struggle with her dad’s disease.
Many adult children try desperately to care for their parents with dementia because they feel that placing them in a care facility is letting them down. To the contrary, experienced, professionally staffed services often can do far more in providing a better quality life.
Carol Kruckeberg, who is now a co-chairman on the Walk to End Alzheimer’s steering committee, remembers feeling devastated by the thought of placing her mom in a care facility until she realized that doing so would enable her afflicted parent to live a much fuller life. Not only did her mom have professional care and ongoing activities, but also socialization with her peers. Additionally, there was support and education for her and her family from the staff at the care center, communication with members of other families going through the same ordeal and support groups for spouses.
John Bridge visits his mom, Rosemary, almost every day at Discovery Memory Care. Although she often thinks he is her brother, it makes him happy when people now tell him how nice she is. He wishes he could do more for her, but it is a great relief that at age 93, she seems at peace and without the pain, anxiety and turmoil that threw their life into chaos seven years ago.
Rosemary had been a very active member of the community when her thinking started to become fuzzy. She had trouble managing her checkbook and medications. Insurance payments and other bills began to lapse. Accidents and mishaps caused Bridge to become alarmed that his mom’s physical safety was at risk. He began a long trek to finding suitable living arrangements for her. For reasons such as facility closures, inadequate levels of supervision and his mom just not being happy, Bridge and his wife made the decision to care for her at home. They rearranged rooms, put locks on doors and added a monitoring system. As a failsafe, Bridge slept on the couch so if his mom attempted to leave the house in the middle of the night, he could intervene. Bridge remembers the painful day when his mom became belligerent, told him she did not want him around and stormed off to a store on foot. Bridge followed her into the shop where a patron misinterpreted Bridge’s concern as harassment and threatened to call the police to have him detained.
Although no one could love her as much as he does, moving his mom into a professional facility has kept her safe, happy, in less pain and taking fewer medications. Now he can remember the great lady who raised and taught him so much. Bridge plans to discuss with his family what they should do if he meets the same fate as Rosemary, so they will not suffer the anguish and guilt that plagued his efforts to help his parent.
If an inpatient facility is not feasible for someone, there are other ways to manage the disease so caregivers do not have to go it alone. Day and respite care are available locally at the facilities listed below. Kate Sullivan, also a co-chairman on the Walk committee, felt fortunate that during the 10 years her father suffered with Alzheimer’s they had the resources to provide activities from home with professionals intervening as necessary.
Although bringing up the subject of a decline in a person’s mental capacity can be very difficult, the first and most important step to help someone who seems to be having more than normal memory problems is to take action. Getting a health check-up with the doctor is a great place to start. Basic memory screening tests are generally available through physician’s offices and also are offered for free through Discovery Memory Care in Sequim. Further testing can be done via PET scans and CT scans. Information on the disease, warning signs, help and support can be found at www.alz.org. The Alzheimer’s Association helpline is available at 800-272-3900.
Four facilities for memory care are available in Clallam and Jefferson counties: Discovery Memory Care, Dungeness Courte and Sherwood Assisted Living in Sequim and San Juan Villa in Port Townsend. Each facility has its own personality and all are equipped to assist the individual and the family to maximize the potential quality of life.