Making Memories: A Battle Against Alzheimer’s

| February 28, 2013

By ANGIE FENTON
Managing Editor
The Voice-Tribune

It started simply eight years ago.

“Mom would repeat things, she was forgetting things,” said Kim Sanders of her mother, Mary Chapman.

“Then she stopped doing the things she loved,” Sanders recalled.

An expert seamstress, Chapman stopped attending a local sewing circle and gave away her sewing machine. She showed little interest in activities she once enjoyed, like cooking.

“Thing just seemed, I don’t know, not right,” Sanders recalled.

Testing revealed what Sanders feared: Her mother was suffering from dementia most likely caused by Alzheimer’s. (While the diagnosis of the disease can now be up to 90 percent accurate, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, it can only be positively confirmed through autopsy.)

“Dad passed away in (2011) after…his third time with cancer,” said Sanders, but up until just before his death, “his brain was probably better than hers.”

Sanders and her husband quickly made the decision to allow her mother to stay in her home, go into an assisted living facility or move in with them. Chapman chose the latter.

Admittedly, “it’s a different lifestyle,” said Sanders. “When she first moved in, I had to help her shower and do everything.”

The most heart-breaking moments came when Chapman would look at her daughter in despair and say, “Kim? Kim? I just don’t know what to do.”

So Sanders gave her things to do.

She put together a meticulous system to ensure her mother’s medications were prepared for her each day and wrote lists so Chapman could figure out how to do simple tasks like make coffee in a one-step Keurig coffee brewer and work the microwave, and left a daily itinerary so Chapman would know what she could anticipate in the hours ahead.

Sanders labeled each drawer so her mother could locate her items with ease. And she spent time walking with her mother around the wooded grounds of her Crestwood home. They watched movies or often sat together in a sitting room and talked or read.

As time went on, Chapman began to get better, somewhat. So has Sanders, who didn’t hesitate to take on the caretaker role for her parent but has found solace in a support group run by the Alzheimer’s Association. “They’re fantastic. They take the ones (like Chapman) with a memory problem in another room and you get to talk about … how guilty you feel, what little support there is.”

There are still difficult moments. Among the hardest: the knowledge that there is no cure.

“(Chapman’s current condition) won’t last forever, I know that. You just never know how long,” Sanders said. “Mom gets upset sometimes about how sorry she is that she has to be here (in Sanders’ home). At times she understands she can’t remember. Those are the rougher moments.”

Those are also the moments when Sanders fears for her own son, “that I might be this way. I hate the thought of it. … I haven’t been tested (for Alzheimer’s). I should, but I don’t even want to.”

Most unexpected, however, have been the beautiful moments Sanders never anticipated. “Mom’s memory has gotten worse, but she’s improved her outlook … and we get to spend more time together laughing and going places than we might have otherwise.”

Chapman has since rejoined the local sewing circle, preferring to stick to simpler tasks like tying knots as opposed to sewing, but the camaraderie gives her joy. “You get out with people and you have people to talk to and you know what’s going on,” she said during a recent interview.

Looking at her daughter, Chapman continued: “My daughter takes care of me. She takes care of me. She’s a very good person,” the 77-year-old said, smiling widely. “And she’s a good cook.”

Contact writer Angie Fenton at angie@voice-tribune.com.

Fast Facts

  • More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • One in eight older Americans has Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
  • More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care valued at $210 billion for persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
  • Payments for care are estimated to be $200 billion in the United States in 2012.

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

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