Alzheimers

All people are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.  1 Peter 24

I am writing this post from a farm near Madison, Georgia, owned by my brother-in-law, Joe, who is my wife’s eldest brother. He was a brilliant heart surgeon at Emory University and trained hundreds of surgeons in his specialty during his illustrious career. 

I went to college with Joe, and his younger brother, Dick.  Joe graduated from medical school. Dick and I graduated from law school shortly thereafter. 

In January, Joe was diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). We had seen the symptoms of his decline before then, but did not know that he had AD.  

Over the past 9 months, we have stayed in touch with his wife, Missy, his primary caregiver, but Covid-19 complicated things. We learned that dementia and AD are complicating factors for Covid-19, so we were unable to visit until recently. 

Joe was full of life and had an outgoing personality. He loved to hunt and fish and took many trips to do both in South America, Idaho and even Alaska.  As a college football player, he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers after his senior season at UNC. He chose medical school instead and was awarded a Morehead Scholarship which paid for his education.

He still remembers Sis and me, which is good because it helped when we arrived.   Missy needed a break, so we stayed for several days while she visited family who she hasn’t seen all year. 

When my father started a Vespers service for Alzheimer’s patients in his retirement home, he played old familiar hymns. Almost all of the patients remembered the words without needing to see a hymnal.  Old memories are locked in; new ones quickly fade. 

Joe can remember names from the past – often decades ago – but can’t remember if he had eaten a piece of toast during breakfast. 

He has gone from being an ebullient outgoing man to a somber and subdued one. He has regressed into childhood. While once he could manage microsurgery on heart valves, he now struggles to get dressed without help.

We kept him busy and took long walks on his farm. Sis went fishing with Joe in the pond behind his house (see picture).  What makes this sad is that this is as good as it is going to get. He is in Stage 6 which is described as “moderately severe decline”.

Fortunately, Joe is gentle and kind.  Many AD patients experience behavioral issues including anger, sadness, depression and even aggression. We know a wife who had to put her husband in a facility because he was becoming dangerously physical with her. 

Why write about Alzheimer’s? The answer is that it is important and it is increasing with 5.7 million cases in the US, which is predicted to grow to 16 million people by 2050. That means that the next generation will be dealing with its consequences.

It is the only disease, out of the top 10, which cannot be slowed down, prevented or cured.  It is the sixth leading cause of death.  The cost of the medical care for AD approaches $414 billion, which is more than the economies of many countries.  

World-wide, there are 48 million people living with Alzheimer’s. It is tragic, not just for those suffering from AD but for the caretakers and family around them. You probably know a friend or family member that has suffered from AD.

An alarming statistic is that early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s has increased 373% for those between the age of 30 and 44. That puts millennials in the crosshairs. For those under 64 from 2013 to 2017, the increase in AD is 200%.  Those are frightening levels of increase.

Nearly 1 in 3 of millennials are planning to get an extra job to be financially able to take care of their parents. 38.8% are already caring for their parents.  While many have labeled millennials as selfish and narcissistic, they have stepped up. Close to 50% are planning to take care of their aging parents, some of whom are experiencing cognitive deterioration.

Research for a cure is ongoing, but none is currently on the horizon. The research community thinks it possible to prevent or control AD within 10 years, but funding of research needs to increase beyond government support. 

The cost of care by Medicare and Medicaid is around $175 billion. If no cure is found that cost is projected to increase by 330% in 20 years. For each dollar spent by the federal government on AD, less than a penny goes to research to find a cure. 

Caring for a person with AD or dementia can be emotionally, physically and even spiritually exhausting. It can be a “perfect storm” for caregivers, either weakening their faith or, paradoxically, strengthening it.  

Every caregiver needs help and support. I found a 7-day devotional based on the book Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade which encourages care providers to lean on God and approach the difficulties “from an empowered Christ-focused perspective”. 

We are not alone dealing with family members battling Alzheimers. Bill Lam, a five time NCAA winning wrestling coach, says that one in “three Americans” has dealt with Alzheimer’s. He has created a website that has a lot of information for caregivers based on his own experiences and research.

The challenge is that the next generations are more likely than older generations to deal with dementia or Alzheimer’s in their lifetime. Millennials are not exempt from this disease anymore, either personally or as caregivers. 

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Your mentee may know someone in his peer group that is helping parents manage dementia or Alzheimer’s. It’s important for you to know how to help them.

FURTHER READING

Alzheimer’s Statistics: United States and Worldwide

Millennials are Stepping Up to Care for their Aging Parents – Forbes

Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

Managing Personality and Behavioral Changes in Alzheimer’s – NIH

Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade – Gary Chapman

Alzheimer’s Association Website

Coaching Caregivers – Lam

WORSHIP: Better than a Hallelujah – Amy Grant

MentorLink: For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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3 thoughts on “Alzheimers

  1. jim cleary says:

    As a physician and experienced in dealing with the elderly (I am one myself) I can only echo what Bill has described. Fortunately, in Joe’s case, his family has assets to enable them to appropriately care for his needs and they ae blessed that Joe is meek as a lamb. Unfortunately, many victims of AD are not so fortunate and I could recount tale after tale of heart breaking circumstances in dealing with these unfortunate souls. Covid-19 has hastened the departure of many of these brethren *and sisters) to their eternal homes and it is heartbreaking to know how ill prepared we were to provide comfort and care in their final hours. God give you peace and comfort Joe, you earned it. Jim

  2. Beth Collom says:

    Bill,

    I enjoyed your story. Joe is fortunate to having such a loving family to take care of him. You and Sis are so full of life and perfect examples of an active lifestyle that
    possibly thwarts Alzheimer’s. Diet(cut down on sugar and carbs), mental and physical exercise, socializing, maintaining a healthy weight, trying new things and a positive outlook are also habits
    that possibly slow down the onset of dementia. See you on the pickle ball courts!

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