Issues facing families who deal with Alzheimer’s

Published 3:34 pm Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Because my mother had Alzheimer’s disease 18 years, and because so many of my friends are encountering loved ones who have dementia, people talk to me about Alzheimer’s. Not being a medical professional, I try to direct them to a good resource, such as the Beaufort County Caregivers Support Group. But sometimes they just need to talk to a friend who has had the same experience. During many conversations, three issues stand out.

One centers on the definition of dementia. Many people think Alzheimer’s and dementia are synonymous. However, “dementia” is a general term for progressive memory loss caused by a variety of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia or Parkinson’s. I asked a neurologist to test Mother because I learned there was a 20-percent chance her dementia could be corrected by medication. Her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, instead of the other dementias, made me aware that her disease wasn’t correctable. The doctor advised me to read “The 36-Hour Day,” educating myself about the Alzheimer’s. The book was depressing, but I learned what symptoms and behaviors to expect.

The second issue that friends mention is about “stages” of Alzheimer’s. Resources indicate from three to seven stages. Mother started wandering in the “second” stage, although my resource stated that “wandering” happened at a much later stage. The stages are only guidelines — my problem was dealing with the wandering. Cleverly waiting until the caregiver was in the bathroom, Mother would slip out the front door to investigate what was happening across the street. Eventually, one of her other caregivers suggested magnetic door alarms. As Mother opened the door, the alarms were so loud that she would say a few “classic” words, hold her ears and come back inside. Finally, she learned not to open that door unless accompanied. The alarm didn’t ring when someone was with her. Yes, a person with Alzheimer’s can learn new concepts.

The last issue centers on siblings helping or not helping in caring for a loved one. I am amazed how many siblings don’t give time or money to caregiving brothers or sisters. Somehow, the care falls on one sibling and the others either lend support or don’t. As a sole caregiver, I felt sorry for myself until an acquaintance, caring for her mother who had dementia, told me that her seven siblings constantly complained about how she cared for their mother or how she spent their mother’s money. I became thankful that I didn’t have to fight that battle with siblings and the battle against the disease. On the other hand, I am amazed how much support some friends receive from their siblings or relatives. For example, a friend of mine whose mother had multi-infarct dementia traveled from Alaska several times a year to give his sister a break from caring for their mother. He also gave financial support when his mother’s funds ran out. Good caregiving is an act of love for a parent. It would be wonderful if all siblings felt that love and acted responsibly.

Emily Albera is co-chair of the Washington Alzheimer’s Walk and Education Fair which is planned for Oct. 8, 9 a.m. to noon, at Red Men’s Lodge in Washington. For more information, contact her at 252-944-3446 or If the walk and education fair need to be cancelled because of Hurricane Matthew, the Washington Daily News will print a cancellation in the weekend issue of the paper.

For information about the Beaufort County Caregivers Support Group, held at Grace Martin Harwell Senior Center, at 5:30 p.m. every fourth Monday of the month, call Kristen Hamilton, 252-975-1837.