Where’s Grandpa?

By JEFF BELL

Six months ago, Elaine Sattler would lay awake at night wondering if all of her doors were locked and if her alarm was on.  However, unlike most, she wasn’t worried about keeping people out – but rather someone in.

Two years ago, her husband, Dick Sattler, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative condition that causes the nerve cells in the brain to lose functionality. This malfunction in the brain affects each person differently and at varying speeds, but will inevitably lead to memory loss and in some cases the breakdown of basic motor skills.

Over the past few years, Elaine has watched her husband slowly yet steadily transition from the early stage of the disease into the moderate range. This means that Dick went from simply forgetting minor things at the grocery store, to not knowing who the president was – in a matter of 24 months.

Three Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

The disease has three stages – early, middle, and severe. People who suffer from it slowly begin to lose planning and organizational skills, and also experience minor memory loss in the first few months of diagnosis. As the condition continues to progress into the middle stage, patients can expect to have increased confusion and also struggle to complete normal activities of daily living. Finally, the degenerative nature of Alzheimer’s disease pushes those suffering into the severe stage. In this phase, almost all activities
require assistance or guidance from a caregiver.

The term “caregiver” can take on a variety of meanings, oftentimes determined by both the financial state of the person suffering, and the ability of loved ones to provide the care that is necessary. In the case of Elaine and Dick, their situation was further complicated because she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease only one year prior to Dick’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

“At first, Dick was able to continue helping around the house, cooking meals and hauling trash to the street like he always had,” Elaine said. “But in a short time, monitoring his whereabouts and activities became all-consuming. That’s when I knew I had to find a place that could care for him in ways I was not capable of.”

After much research and deliberation, Elaine and her family were able to secure Dick in a high-end nursing home that specializes in caring for people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Many similar facilities operate around the country to cater to the growing number of people who are suffering from this disease, including one in John’s Creek, Georgia.

A Personality-Changing Disease

Katie McDonough is the co-managing director of this long-term care facility, tucked away in the affluent suburb just north of Atlanta. Here, McDonough oversees the daily activities of her residents who she lovingly refers to as “her babies.”  She also meets with families of
incoming residents and attempts to provide education on the disease, and councils them on what they should prepare themselves for in the coming months.

“At first I focus on the patient and attempt to gain as much knowledge about the resident as possible. This allows me to watch out for unusual behavior and also to track the progress of the disease. It is not uncommon for people to completely shift personalities and display behaviors they never would have dreamed about before Alzheimer’s,” McDonough said.

McDonough can tell countless stories about meek old grandmothers who suddenly turn violent, or pet lovers who abruptly resent the presence of an animal. However, she points out that it is important to remember that the disease, not the person, causes these changes.

The next concern for a family attempting to manage the condition of their loved one is to go through a legal checklist of paperwork protecting the person suffering from Alzheimer’s. This paperwork includes many items like a power of attorney, a do not resuscitate form, securing of financial records and countless other items.

The Family’s Difficult Decision

In the case of Dick Sattler, one of the hardest things his family had to do prior to his admittance to a facility was take away his car. Dick was an active member in alcoholics anonymous for 30 years and until the very end, enjoyed providing counsel to others.

“It really killed me to take his car away,” Elaine said. “Here is a man who absolutely relished in the camaraderie and purpose that alcoholics anonymous brought to his life. He loved offering advice and encouraging words for those attempting to clean up their life. Unfortunately, near the end I was forced to revoke his ability to drive, fearing he might harm himself or someone else.”

It is these types of painstaking decisions that make this disease so difficult to deal with for the whole family. The amount of time spent conducting research and filling out forms and documents for loved ones, and obviously caring for that person, can easily become all-encompassing.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month

For this reason, the Alzheimer’s Association has enacted a campaign to remind everyone that November is Alzheimer’s awareness month. This is a time for recognition not only in the honor of those suffering from the disease, but also the people who offer them care. The presence of a purple ribbon worn on ones clothes is the standard way of outwardly showing your support for finding a cause and a cure for the disease.

The Alzheimer’s Association also suggests that families who are suffering with their loved one through the disease, seek out support groups to help them cope with the challenges they will surely face.

“Without the support of others, this experience would have been nothing short of unbearable,” Elaine said. “The only thing harder than watching a loved one go through this awful disease would be attempting to bear this burden on my own.”

To find more information on Alzheimer’s disease, please visit www.alz.org. This is a comprehensive website that offers a large variety of information and services to anyone who has an interest. The topics covered range from frequently asked questions to signing up for a sponsored race that raises money toward research for a cure.

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