By Sharna Fulton
On March 13, Beth Pence, wife, mother, caregiver and Alphagraphics business owner will grace the dance floor at the Dancing Stars of Augusta. With open arms and happy feet, she’ll be dancing to honor her mother and mother-in-law, both living with Alzheimer’s.
Twelve years ago, when Beth and her husband, Chris were raising their four children in Augusta, little did they know that they would also become caregivers for both sets of parents.
When Beth’s father developed a heart condition, he and his wife came to stay with them. Two sweethearts who had worked together at the Ford Motor Co. in Detroit, Beth knew her mom as a serious woman who had been an executive secretary just three doors down from Lee Iacocca. So, ten years ago, when her mom, Carolyn Quarries started to put things in strange places and act sillier than her usual self, Beth wondered what was going on. After a visit to the family doctor and neurologist, Carolyn was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 76.
Beth’s parents lived with her family for over a decade as her mother’s disease progressed. While many happy memories were made sharing stories at the dinner table, it was a difficult period for the family as they watched their mother and grandmother slip away.
Then, two years ago, Beth’s mother-in-law, Sarah Pence, was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and came to live with her family.
A perfect example of someone in the sandwich generation, Beth found herself raising her kids, Carly, Phillip, Emily and Gavin while also being an Alzheimer’s caregiver. In an upbeat and positive tone, she said, “It’s been a privilege and an opportunity to care for two different parents from two different gene pools. It’s nothing you plan for. Some days are a struggle, but you just have to take charge.”
She also credits her family’s success in dealing with the disease to good communication and strong family bonds. Chris and Beth take time to listen to each other as they share their day-to-day thoughts and concerns. They both also have large families who, in Beth’s words, provide a great deal of support. In the case of Sarah, Chris’ siblings, who are spread out across the country, discuss their mother’s care and well-being regularly during a weekly call.
So, what advice does Beth have to offer others supporting loved ones with Alzheimers?
“I first got involved with the Alzheimer’s Association five years ago when I stopped by their local office in Augusta seeking advice on how to communicate with my mother. Earlier knowledge of her disease would have saved our family much concern, confusion and frustration. Because of the Alzheimer’s Association, families now have even more resources and information to assist them in identifying the disease and helping loved ones. I’m so grateful for their support and the light they shed on this terrible disease.”
That’s why, in just a little over a month, you’ll see Beth step out into her own spotlight as she dances for her mother and mother-in-law and raises funds to offer hope for a cure.