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Alzheimer's, dementia talk hits close to home

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Column by Jim Clark

Sometimes you cover things that hit close to home. Such was the State Road 200 Coalition meeting Monday.

The speaker was Terrie Hardison, executive director of the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Florida, Inc. Her talk made me wish I had heard her speak about a decade ago, when my father was still alive and living in assisted living.

There were so many things that she spoke of that I could relate to. The thing I noticed the most was that, under the lead of my giving wife, we apparently did a lot of things right.

There were some warning instances, though, that we should have picked up on, things that you might be aware of in case a loved one of yours is heading in that direction.

My mom and dad were married 54 years when she died suddenly in 1997. During a visit to their house just a couple of weeks earlier, she had confided in me that she was concerned about dad. “He’s getting so forgetful,” she said. At the time he was 81, she was 82.

After she died, I was a day late getting there because I was working out of town and got stuck in northern Alabama by an ice storm (it was Jan. 10). I got to the house, and we hugged, and I asked what had happened. He said we would talk about it later, but it was apparent he couldn’t remember.

We drove to the funeral home, and on the way back he almost turned the wrong way on one of Ocala’s downtown one-way streets. I had to grab the wheel.

Two mornings later we got up to go to the funeral, and he was still in his pajamas, and I said we had to get ready to go to mom’s funeral. His comment was, “I gather from what you said that my mother died.” Truth is, she had died 30 years earlier, to the day, that his wife, my mother, died.

Still, in our ignorance of what was going on, we eventually left him home, promising to check on him often. But it wasn’t enough. He eventually drove to Lake City, for no reason, and couldn’t find his way back.

After that, we put him in assisted living.

We were lucky. He could have been killed or, worse yet, killed someone else in his driving. As I listened to Terrie speak the other day, I realized that we should have acted sooner to keep him out of danger.

And that’s where you come in. Don’t be bashful about getting help for your loved ones, no matter how much they want their independence. It’s natural for us to think that they’ll be OK, but the reality is that we have to make sure our homes are safety proof, just as you would do for a toddler.

“Get into a class so you can understand how it works,” Hardison told the attentive audience Monday afternoon.

She also pointed out that about 60 percent of caregivers die before the person for whom they are caring, because of the stress involved.

We don’t know what causes dementia and/or Alzheimer’s, but we do know that it’s very likely that all of our lives will be touched by it in one way or another. It’s vital that we all learn as much as possible about how to treat the victims … or ourselves.

 

Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen. He can be reached at 352-854-3986 or at editor@smcitizen.com.