June 21: The Longest Day
By Maggie Sanders
June 21 is the day with the most light, and that’s when the Alzheimer’s Association shines light on this sad disease that robs loved ones of memories and personality. But when you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, every day can seem to last more than 24 hours.
My mom, Vivian Benson Sanders, is living with one of the severe dementias associated with Alzheimer’s disease. At 15, she was offered a full scholarship to Rice University – located less than two miles from her home – but her father refused his permission for her to attend. Now 94, she still painfully recalls how he stole her future.
But she doesn’t recognize me, my brothers or our children. Nor does she recall that my father passed six years ago and that our middle brother died two years before. She can’t remember how to walk and struggles with all activities of daily living. This scary smart lady who treasured words like precious jewels is losing her grasp of language, and our conversations are becoming a hodgepodge of unrelated and often unintelligible words and phrases.
When it became obvious four years ago that Mama could no longer live independently, our family decided to move her from Bryan, where my brother Ray had been looking after her, to Waco. At that point, I became her primary caregiver and began juggling work, my own family and other interests with meeting her needs. These have increased over the years, so two years ago I retired from the part-time teaching job I loved to be more available.
Fortunately, my mom is in a good memory care facility, but I still spend a lot of time and energy with her. She’s among the nearly 400,000 Texas adults over 65 who have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. And I am just one of the approximately 1.5 million family members and friends caring for a loved one in the same situation.
The care takes its toll on our bodies, minds and spirits — and drains family finances. In Texas last year, caregivers provided approximately 1.6 billion hours of unpaid care with a total value of $20.5 billion. We deal with stress, lack of sleep and lack of support. We are reminded to take care of ourselves, but that doesn’t always seem possible.
My caregiver’s journey has been eased thanks to the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter. Even before I moved my mom to Waco, I had helped with the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and that helped me tap into some of the resources the group offers. I’ve since attended several support groups and the annual caregivers conference. I continue to work with the walk committee and try to volunteer with other projects as needed.
Locally, the Waco Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association provides a range of caregiver support groups where family members can meet others sharing similar situations.
- Heart of Waco Caregiver Support Group, 6-7 p.m., Second Monday of each month at Heartis Waco Assisted Living and Memory Care. Contact Donna Ginsel at 254-717-4805 or Bobby Don Saylor at 940-595-9355.
- Hillcrest Senior Health Center, 10-30-11:30 a.m., Second Wednesday of each month at the Hillcrest Senior Health Center. Contact Renee Shepherd at 254-537-3731 or Laura Ellis at 254-202-6500 or Bobby Don Saylor (above).
- Early Stage Support Groups. Separate sessions allow Caregivers and Persons with Disease to meet separately for support, information and socialization. Prescreening is required. Contact Christine Schroeder-Moran of the Waco Alzheimer’s Chapter at 254-754-7722.
- The Gathering Place provides social interaction and support for caregivers and their loved ones. The program meets from 10-11 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month at Austin Avenue Methodist Church. Contact Sandi Snowden at 713-553-7061, Pam Butler at 254-755-2248 or Bobby Don Saylor (above).
- The annual Caregivers Conference, always the first Friday in March, is an excellent opportunity to hear about the latest research and to gather tools you can use in your own journey.
- This year’s Waco Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be Saturday, October 5, at Brazos Park East.
To learn more about these resources or to ask questions, contact the Waco Chapter Alzheimer’s Association at 254-753-7722 or alz.org/northcentraltexas
Maggie Sanders is a freelance artist and writer. She retired from McLennan Community College, where she worked in the public information office and taught marketing.
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