Sharing The Heartaches Of Living With Alzheimer's

Posted: October 18, 1990

Caring for an Alzheimer's patient completely changes every phase of your life, according to area residents who have relatives suffering from the disease.

"I've had to learn to do a lot of things. I have to do everything. My husband is at the point now where he needs help all of the time," said Marilyn Falls, 66, whose 67-year-old husband, Bob, was diagnosed as having Alzheimer's four years ago.

The sessions last month at the Devon Manor Retirement Home and those taking place weekly this month at the Squire Adult Day Care in Newtown Square focus on the major problems caregivers face when a family member is diagnosed with the disease.

More than 73,000 residents from Chester, Delaware, Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties will suffer from Alzheimer's disease this year, according to recent estimates.

Throughout the workshop, David Morgenstern, of the Associates at Devon Manor, emphasized that it is important for the caregivers to give themselves breaks from time to time. He added that one ironic advantage to the patient's memory loss is that he will forget an upset shortly after it occurs. "You can't (give care) 100 percent of the time," he said. "If you can't grab your own feelings, back off and cope with your own feelings. Then try again."

Edwin Gold, one of the caregivers attending the workshop, agreed that taking some time away from the Alzheimer's patient was important. Gold's mother was diagnosed with Organic Brain Syndrome, a form of dementia with symptoms similar to Alzheimer's disease. Gold has placed his mother in a nursing home, but he said he still became frustrated at times in trying to communicate with her.

"Unlike many people, I've chosen to leave a phone in (my mother's) room," Gold said. "Sometimes I get between 10 and 15 calls a day. She tells me she

hasn't seen me in months, they aren't feeding her . . . But I think it's better for her to know that I'm there when she needs me."

Another caregiver, Elise Casey, added that it was important for family members to keep in touch. "A phone call a day makes such a difference," she said. Casey's husband, Justin, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's after he had a stroke more than a year ago.

Mary Wearshing, the director of the Oasis Adult Day Center at Devon Manor who works with Alzheimer's patients, said that the patients often responded very well to humor and laughter. Wearshing gave an example of one patient who would listen to comedy albums and laugh with the audience. She also said that Alzheimer's patients seemed to be able to communicate with one another.

"Many times, I will come upon several patients will be talking to one another, and although I can't understand what they're saying, they will all laugh at the right time," Wearshing said.

Adult day care is an option open to caregivers who cannot afford to place family members in a nursing home. "The role of day-cares is to give respite to caregivers. It is absolutely vital that caregivers get a break," Wearshing said.

Day care gives Marilyn Falls a break twice a week while allowing her husband to do things he enjoys. "At a certain point, you can't leave your spouse alone," she said. "I couldn't go to these (workshops) without having to find someone to care for him. The day care has been a real blessing."

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