By Jamie Saunders
After retirement, moving to a farm was a dream come true for Robert (Bob) and Georgia (Maisie) Compton. A retired engineer and avid Lionel train collector, Bob loved farm life, including mowing and taking care of the animals. Maisie loved horseback riding and always wanted to have horses at home. A 69-acre farm in Dawson County was the perfect place for them to live out their lives together.
Ada Holley, Compton’s daughter and neighbor at the farm, recalls, “My parents moved out there in 1988. My dad loved having a farm and hosting company at the farm. Sometimes people would show up to the farm that he hadn’t told my mom about. We had 4-wheelers, and he would drive everyone all around the property. One day we had bankers out to the house, and one of them had on a skirt and stilettos. Didn’t matter to dad, he took her out on the 4-wheeler anyway. They had a great time!”
Continues Holley, “My husband and I eventually built a house on the next hill over from my parents in 1999. Our kids were in second and fifth grade when we moved out to the farm. They loved it. Our boys grew up driving tractors and riding horses. They loved spending time with their grandparents learning about farming, animals, and grandpa’s trains.”
A train enthusiast, Compton would often have his friends over, and they would bring their grandchildren to run the trains together. He also loved playing trains with his children and grandchildren. “When I was a child, dad would buy all sorts of Lionel train sets. We had a room in the house where he would build these elaborate train sets. It was realistic, with little cars and people. My kids played with it and loved it. At one point, I remember seeing my dad start to struggle with his trains, and it was hard to take,” recalls Holley.
In 2007, Holley and her family (mom, three brothers, and all of the spouses) began noticing other unusual behaviors in Compton. Together, they decided to seek out medical help. “I started getting regular calls from my mother that dad had left the gate open. The horses had gotten out, or he had turned on the water and left it running overnight. The well went dry. We knew something wasn’t right. When we got the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it was a relief, but it was far from over,” says Holley.
For many families, the diagnosis merely confirms suspicions, it doesn’t resolve the issue. To understand and educate themselves on Compton’s disease, Holley and her mother sought out support. “My mother and I started going to an Alzheimer’s Association support group the year my father was diagnosed. Dad was being verbally abusive to family members and acting strange at times. We were unsure how to cope with that,” continues Holley.
Holley and her mother began attending a support group in the Big Canoe area. The information they found and their group members helped them through a difficult time. Says Holley, “People are scared about the disease. The more you get educated, the less scared you are. It helped us so much to learn what happens in the brain that causes this to happen. Once you can understand and physically know what is causing it, you can take the emotions out of it. It’s the disease, not my dad being cruel or mean to me. People are thrown into this moment with zero expectations, so educating yourself is paramount. It’s stressful. My relationship with my mother changed, too. We handled it differently. It is difficult for her, many spouses get angry about the disease. These groups make you feel less isolated or alone in your feelings.”
In 2009, after a series of events, the family decided to move Compton into a memory care facility in Johns Creek. Recalls Holley, ”Mom couldn’t keep him safe on the farm, and we couldn’t keep the farm safe from him. Mom was so busy trying to run the farm as dad couldn’t keep up with equipment orders, etc. There were arguments because things needed to be done, but dad couldn’t recognize that. My brothers and I felt that the burden of caregiving on Mom had become too great. We put him in memory care earlier than a lot of people do, but we made the right decision as a family.”
Continues Holley, “While we all agreed it was time, the adjustment was difficult as he really just wanted to come home. We chose this location after looking at dozens of spots. It was convenient for our other family members. It was only a memory care facility, and there was no assisted living. Meaning, once the door shut, the residents could go anywhere in the building. This gave my dad so much more freedom and independence.”
Continues Holley, “Eventually, he got comfortable there. He had buddies, they would watch football. Dad loved being social, and there was a lot of socializing. He ended up loving it there, and they loved him well. Mom regained her independence, too. She had stopped riding horses because she couldn’t leave dad alone in the house.
Meanwhile, Holley and her mom continued attending and thriving in their Alzheimer’s support group. So much so, that Holley took on a leadership role. “The woman who led our groups had a mother who passed from Alzheimer’s and her father became ill. She asked me to step in and help her as a co-facilitator. When her father eventually passed, she decided not to continue facilitating the group, and so I became the lead facilitator. The Big Canoe group split into two others. One still meets in the Big Canoe area and the other in the Bent Tree area. I now run both groups, volunteering several hours a month for the Alzheimer’s Association,” says Holley.
When Compton passed in September of 2019, Holley felt compelled to continue facilitating the support groups. The education she and her mother received was helpful, but it was the friendship and community that kept them going. Says Holley, “We are pretty tight; there are a lot of people who have been attending for a long time. We have one attendee whose mother passed from Alzheimer’s, and he still comes to the meetings because we are close. We help each other with our problems and share information. My mom still attends one of the groups with me.”
Holley feels that the structure of the group is what keeps people coming back. “In these Alzheimer’s support groups, we don’t set agendas. Everyone has a chance to share what is going on with them, and then other people can chime in with their experience. Other caregivers can give advice. As a facilitator, I can’t give advice or recommendations on specific care plans, doctors. Still, we direct them to the Alzheimer’s site, and other group members give recommendations,” says Holley.
With COVID-19, everything has moved online, which can be somewhat disruptive to the intimate face-to-face group setting. Says Holley, “We talk about how we miss meeting in person, it’s not the same as before, but some like having the group online. Technology has its benefits. You don’t have to drive anywhere. Before COVID, we had people who couldn’t attend meetings during the day, so we tried to set up an evening meeting. Now that they are home and they can attend virtually during the day.”
Quarantine has left many with Alzheimer’s or caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s feeling more isolated than ever before. “People must get the support they need, so I hope they’ll continue to attend sessions during this uncertain time. Caregiving is stressful enough without COVID and quarantine. I learned so many coping mechanisms from my group. We can help each other,” says Holley.
When asked the most important thing she learned from her group, Holley replied, “I had to totally change my way of thinking. People struggling with this disease are in their own reality, and you cannot pull them into yours. My dad and I used to argue about everything. I had to completely turn myself around and learn to simply agree with him. When mom and I figured out that we didn’t always need to be entirely truthful with dad, it actually caused less harm than arguing and gave him peace of mind. He always wanted to come home with us. He’d ask us to bring his yellow suitcase so we could pack all of his things and go home. We had to keep telling him “next time” because that was what he wanted to hear. We had to be okay with small lies, which was hard, but we knew he was safer in his memory care.”
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be challenging. The Alzheimer’s Association offers a variety of online resources, including support groups like the one Ada Holley facilitates. If you or someone you know requires support, visit Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Chapter Support Groups to find a support group near you.
To learn more about the Georgia Chapter volunteer opportunities, visit Program Volunteer Community.