May 8, 2013 11:46 PM by Chris Welty

Living With Alzheimer's: Part 1

Every minute, someone in the world is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and more than 5-million Americans are living with that disease right now.

Growing up, I spent summers with my grandparents, James and Marie Smith, at their home in New Orleans. Paw-Paw is mild-mannered and has always been the rock of our family. Maw-Maw is one of the most generous people I know.

Nearly eight years ago, Paw-Paw's health took a sharp turn.

"Right after Katrina. We lost our home and all of our belongings and that's one thing he was upset about."

My grandmother credits that stress to the decline of his health.

"It's at a point in my life where I didn't think I'd have to do this," said Maw-Maw.

Since Paw-Paw was diagnosed in 2010 with Alzheimer's dementia, roles have reversed.

"He handled everything. Now, everything is on me and I'm not used to it. I do the best I can."

Maw-Maw is now getting used to paying bills, getting back behind the wheel to pick up groceries and prescriptions. All the while, coping with his sometimes unusual behavior like packing all of his socks in a plastic bad and putting them in the garage.

"I get aggravated every now and then cause I say 'Oh my goodness, you did this again!' but, you get used to it," said Maw-Maw.

After 61 years of marriage, there's one thing she can't get used to.

"He doesn't know who I am, he doesn't know my name."

It takes a toll because for the most part, he remembers everyone else.

"Jimmy, take a good look at me, who do you think I am? He'll pay me on the shoulder and say, you're my sweet heart. Heck, wouldn't you take that if you were in the position I'm in? But sometimes, he'll tell me I'm his care taker."

Paw-Paw struggles with how his life is changing. "I kind of dislike having to have so many different people do the duties that I should be able to do."

Maw-Maw now bathes him, shaves him and cuts his hair. Evenings are the worst. Alzheimer's patients often are sleepless, agitated and wander. It's called "sundowning."

Now, the house is always locked because Paw-Paw has wandered off before. Still, he remembers things like his 42 years in the Navy as Chief Petty Officer and watching us grow up. When I visit him, I cherish each moment and realize I have so much to be grateful for.

"Have faith in God, that's what I do and I say a prayer every night that in the morning I'll find that he's fine."

Thursday night at 10, my family and I take a look at treatment options. We're just one of so many family's holding out hope for a cure.

Chris Welty



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