I have been a member of the Grundy County Dementia Caregiver Support Group for over 10 years.
While living in Berwyn for 36 years, my wife, Mary, contracted Alzheimer’s disease in 1990, at the age of 80. I became her caregiver of sorts and conferred with my neurologist on how to handle situations with Mary.
At the time, I was not aware of any organizations or support groups I could turn to for assistance. Actually, I was doing quite well, as Mary’s dementia was in its early stages.
My cue that something wasn’t normal with her was when she began misplacing her house keys, leaving them in odd locations. She had always kept them in her purse.
Then she began leaving her purse in different places.
Mary would panic when whatever she sought wasn’t where it was supposed to be.
Another symptom I observed was Mary’s confusion in both familiar and strange places; she would become disoriented and lose her way. I was hoping and praying she wasn’t getting Alzheimer’s disease, as her symptoms truly mimicked what I had read about the disease. But she was.
At the time, there were three different medications available for Alzheimer’s patients, none of which seemed to have any effect on Mary. Nevertheless, our lives continued normally and routinely.
Fast forward to April 24, 2001, when we moved to Morris. Berwyn was undergoing demographic changes that upset Mary. She wanted to be near her brother and family who lived in Morris and really liked it here.
It wasn’t long before I discovered through the Grundy County Health Department that there was a support group for caregivers of dementia-related illnesses. The group was humongous, often requiring a large conference room to accommodate the crowd.
I always brought Mary with me, as I couldn’t leave her home alone. Others brought their loved ones, also. The meetings were most informative. I learned a lot.
Everything was informal, everyone shared their experiences, and ideas promoted, tried out and accepted or shot down. We wanted to help each other.
There came a time when Mary suffered a PAD attack, gangrene forced a partial amputation of her foot, necessitating her going into a local nursing home. While Alzheimer’s disease had nothing to do with her PAD-amputation procedures, she never learned how to walk because she couldn’t remember what to do.
She didn’t realize she couldn’t walk or why part of her foot was missing. She didn’t know where she was or what meal she was eating. She knew who I was though. When I would show up, she’d shout to the world, “Here comes my lovey-dovey!”
Mary has been gone over three years now, but despite her absence I continue to attend the Grundy County Dementia Caregiver Support Group meetings.
Let me quote some statistics here.
Memory loss among older adults continues to grow. Alzheimer’s is only one of many forms of dementia, but because memory loss was separated out as a key symptom by German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Aloysius “Alois” Alzheimer, it bears his name.
About 45 percent of those 85 or older have Alzheimer’s. It is projected that 16 million Americans will have this disease by the year 2050.
Candy Thompson, the senior program care coordinator at the Grundy County Health Department, heads up the Dementia Caregiver Support Group. It is open to the public.
Meetings are held monthly on the first Tuesday, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in the Grundy County Administration Building, located on the southwest corner of U.S. 6 and Union Street in Morris.
For additional information, contact Candy Thompson at (815) 941-3125 or Ventress Herron at (815) 941-3422.
Our next meeting will be Tuesday, Aug. 6, from 1:30 to 3 pm at the Grundy County Administration Center, 1320 Union St., Morris. Home Instead Senior Care will be presenting a workshop for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
The workshop will cover how to manage behaviors, encourage engagement, and care for yourself while caring for a loved one. Please join us!
Local veteran Benjamin Kelly has agreed to be an occasional contributor to the Morris Daily Herald with thoughts, recollections and reactions to events during his 91 years of life.