An Alzheimer’s Journey

My parents moved to Clemson from outside of Detroit upon my father, Bob’s, retirement in 1993. He and my mother, Duaine, decided to move south, where they felt that the better climate would be beneficial for my mother’s struggle with MS. 

For over a decade, my parents loved southern living. But then my Mom started to forget directions, details of major personal events, and she sort of lost her verbal filter. 

For instance, Mom got her hair done once a week for years at the same salon roughly 2 miles from home. One day, she simply drove several miles past her salon and out of the state of South Carolina. A police officer helped her call my father from her cell phone, and they got her home.

Another time, she got into an accident, which caused thousands in damages, but managed to drive home. She never told Dad about the crash. He simply discovered the severely smashed-up vehicle in the garage the next day. In fact, Mom didn’t recall the incident happening. 

Needless to say, she stopped driving immediately. 

A Helping Hand for Dad

My sister lived in Cleveland, and I was in Chicago. We visited our parents a couple times per year and noticed that Mom’s behavior was slowly changing. Dad tried to keep the absolute truth from us. He would rather die than be a burden for his kids! He was the son of a Missouri lead miner and not someone who needed assistance! I wish I had known about their plight sooner. 

In 2011, Dad finally needed our help. My Mom had been diagnosed with dementia, and he no longer could be her sole caregiver. Remember that she had MS, which made bathing, getting dressed, eating, and traveling very difficult. 

Ironically, on Valentine’s Day in 2012, my father and I drove my Mom to a retirement home in South Carolina. It was the last time that the love of his life would live in a house with him. The sadness and confusion were overwhelming that day. Little did I know that my involvement with Alzheimer’s was about to become a game-changer for our family. 

Dad sold the Clemson house and moved into an independent living apartment nearby. I visited my folks almost monthly, noticing that my Dad was drinking Scotch much more than in the past. He would visit Mom several times a week and go home and kill the pain. He tried to cover this up for my visits, but during 2013 it was too hard for him to hide. 

I visited both parents in early January 2014. My Mom seemed content as she slowly forgot where she was. I thought that her facility was disorganized and that her care was not a high enough priority. My Dad disagreed, but he had other struggles that may have kept him from seeing her retirement home’s real issues. 

From Caregiver to Needing Care

On January 3rd, Dad and I both slept in his one-bedroom apartment. I noticed that he had a nasty cold. I flew back to Chicago on the 4th. On January 6th, I got a call from the Greenville Memorial Hospital. He had pneumonia and seemed to exhibit dementia-like symptoms. I flew to see him that day. 

My sister and I decided to move him to a better retirement home. My sister, Kelsey, did a great job behind the scenes. She ran a business in Cleveland and didn’t have the travel flexibility that I had. 

Shortly after entering his new facility, we moved Mom there too. 

I believe that I made 19 trips to SC in 2014. Being appointed the healthcare and financial POA for my parents, my duties as father and husband, and insurance executive took a significant hit. 

Dad recovered from pneumonia but was diagnosed with vascular dementia. His memory seemed to improve with time during the year. Then he caught pneumonia in late March of 2015. This time he didn’t recover. 

A Life-Changing Move

After mourning the loss of Dad, my family decided that moving Mom up North would be too risky for her. My employer allowed me to work in Atlanta. We were tired of the Illinois weather and politics.

The family moved on 12/05/15 to help take care of Mom. Unfortunately, she unexpectedly passed away eight days later, on 12/13/15—cause of death: Alzheimer’s type dementia.

My Advocacy

My wife and I stayed in Georgia with our two children, both grown now. We enjoy traveling, concerts and advocacy work to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease in our retirement. I think about our children and want them to live a life without worry about this horrific disease.

I have raised money for the association for years by raising donations through running marathons and half marathons. Raising funds by participating in the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s is just the tip of my Advocacy iceberg.

In 2018, I was gassing up my car at a Roswell gas station when this guy named Dan Goerke introduced himself by asking, “Do you know somebody who has Alzheimer’s?” I realized that I was wearing a purple Alzheimer’s Association running shirt. That was the beginning of my involvement as an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement. Nobody says no to Dan!!

Meeting with Congress members both at their offices here and in DC at Forum has been exciting and incredibly rewarding! As advocates, we are helping get legislation passed that improves people’s lives! Millions of people!! Let that one sink in. 

And working with so many passionate volunteers and learning about all the developments in the search for a cure. I feel so lucky that I get to advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association

To learn more about our advocacy program, visit alz.org/georgia

Published by ALZGA

Communications Manager, Alzheimer's Association, Georgia

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