By Sean Corcoran
to an audio version of this
It is estimated that about 8,500 people have Alzheimer's disease on Cape Cod and
the Islands, and the number is expected to skyrocket when the baby boomers begin
Alzheimer's Services of Cape Cod and the Islands
in Hyannis is one of the
organizations at the forefront of providing information, comfort and support as families
face the disease.
Rich Havens of Forestdale first noticed his mother having trouble five years ago. At first,
she just stopped doing the crossword puzzle and reading the daily newspaper, as had
been her habit. Soon she couldn't balance her checkbook, and she started getting lost
easily in the neighborhood. Havens essentially had to take over his mother's life, a
task that can be difficult, both for the caregiver, and for the person with Alzheimer's, who
often is confused by everything going on.
: "I always tell people there is a hump - and you can't
really define it - there is a beginning, there is an ending, and as you progress.
. . the hump means the point when the person who has the disease is no longer
combative. The person accepts . . . once you reach that hump and go on
the other side, it is a lot easier for the caregiver because then the decisions that you have
to make on behalf of their health and wellbeing, you no longer have to worry about
having to do battle with the one who has the affliction."
Havens' mother died last December. But before then, as the disease progressed,
his search for information and support led him to Alzheimer's Services of Cape Cod
: "Good morning, good morning . . . ladies and
gentleman, There are so many things to remember. . Great article . . .
Walking and how that help. . . Anyone have anything remarkable happen
that they want to talk about? I had a semi-annual physical the other day . . .
On Tuesday mornings at ten, an early stage support group meets at Alzheimer's
Services. Much of the talk is about ways people can keep their minds active.
Researchers believe that keeping the brain nimble may help prevent the spread of
Alzheimers. Some read newspapers aloud or do crossword puzzles. One man says he
listens to the ball game on the radio each night, concentrating so he can picture every
play in his mind.
: "Does anyone here keep a memory notebook, or any type
of calendar or schedule to keep them on track? I do . . . "
Most participants are brought to the group by their spouses or children, who then go
meet together in a different room to discuss the issues they face as caregivers.
Eighty-Six-Year-old Trenor Gridell's wife died two years ago from complications
related to Alzheimer's. He now volunteers for Alzheimer's Services doing filing
and answering phones.
"We met in our hometown many years ago, in Dighton, Massachusetts. Many people
might not know where that is. But we were married for over sixty years. It was a very
happy marriage. "
In the days after his wife first was diagnosed, Gridell sought out support groups. His sole
purpose, he says, was to find out what he needed to do to keep his wife at home with him
as long as he could.
"We just had to face it, that's all. It was a situation where she was going to be
deteriorating, and I learned a lot about the disease from the support group. .
. We help one another. It is quite a process of mutual support."
Alzheimer's eats away at people's memories. Simple ways of functioning -
how to brush ones hair or teeth, or how to get to the coffee shop down the street - all
that can be lost, seemingly over night.
Kathy Pastva is the executive director of Alzheimer's Services of Cape Cod and the
Islands. She says the disease can be particularly frightening, emotional and difficult to
handle for the caregivers.
: "The primary family caregiver becomes sort of that
person's memory, if you will. So that they're needing to remind that person of
what to do
next or where they need to be. And it can be exhausting. When people call us, even if
we're not able to solve the problem entirely, just talking to someone who
understands what this disease is and how it changes folks, and the kinds of challengers
care givers face. I think that, in general, caregivers feel really good about being heard
and being understood."
Pastva says that when people are first diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, it is
common for family members and friends to retreat into denial. The person seems Ok,
except for a little memory loss. But this is the time, in the early stages, for families to talk
and for people to get their affairs in order. Decisions and preparations must be made,
and Alzheimer's Services of Cape Cod is there to help.
Alzheimer's Services of Cape
Cod & the Islands
712 Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
Office hours: M-F: 8:30am-5:00pm
P.O. Box 953
Barnstable, MA 02630.
Broadcast October 6, 2005
Sean Corcoran reports for the Cape and Islands NPR Stations.