For more than 10 years I have been attending an Alzheimer meeting at the Lutheran church. I’ve been attending because I’ve experienced Alzheimer’s in my mother, Martha, my friend, Gordon, his wife, Goldie, and my wife, Grace. Each one was affected in a different way. I want to help caregivers (CGs) who are suffering.
I found out my biggest contribution to the meeting is as the janitor. I open the room, turn on the lights and arrange the tables. After that I go out to the parking lot and direct people into the meeting.
Most of the people are CG but we have had two or three patients in the meeting. The CGs are going through the stress, heartbreak and terror that CGs experience. Even when the patient is in a separate home, visiting can be touch... most CGs are women. I think that is because women are more nurturing and they live longer. It is not in men’s nature to take care of his wife, yet some are doing it. One guy did it for nine years. The most common feeling of new CGs is that they are the only ones that have had such a terrible experience. They have fears and anger at siblings who will not understand. Being a parent to their parents can be difficult. Sometimes I think 50 percent of the value of the meeting is for them to discover they are not alone.
There are some common experiences. Frequently patients want to go home, to the house of 50 years ago. They can’t remember today’s home. An Alzheimer’s patient loses memory like an onion. The first layer is the most recent events. The last to go is their childhood.
One of the funniest stories that came out of our group was a woman who took her father to the bank. He had discovered someone else was writing checks on his account (it was the daughter that took him to the bank who wrote the checks). He made such a fuss to the teller that she pressed the alarm button calling the police. After the daughter explained to the officer that he was an Alzheimer’s patient and not a robber they let him out of the back of the car and took the handcuffs off. Later in that day he was watching TV when his son came in. The son asked, “Anything new today, dad?” He said, “No, same old same old.” He had completely forgotten the incident at the bank.
We have a list of dos and don’ts which we give the CGs to put on their refrigerator door. Basically the list says don’t argue with the patient. Delay their unreasonable request, make an excuse to do it later, it’s OK to tell a white lie if you need to. If a child asks you where babies come from, you tell the child “from the hospital.” You do this because you know the child’s mind cannot handle so much information. This is the same logic you use when answering an Alzheimer’s patients unreasonable request. You give the patient what they can handle even if it isn’t all the truth. Make a patient comfortable.
If we don’t find a cure for Alzheimer’s or find a way to delay it 10 or 20 years, Alzheimer’s is going to take up to one half of our total medical expense. By the time we are 85, 75 percent of the population has Alzheimer’s.
I would invite you to attend an Alzheimer’s support meeting at the local Lutheran church at 48th Street just south of Elliot Road. We meet the first Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. You don’t have to identify yourself or say anything. All is confidential. Just listen and you will get an appreciation for the terror of Alzheimer’s and the heroism of normal people. God bless them.
• Retired engineer Jim Taunt is a 26-year resident of Ahwatukee Foothills.