Better Them Than Me

 

Clowning around in 1998. Who knew what would be lurking ahead for us?

Clowning around in 1998. Who knew what would be lurking ahead for us?

Today there was another school shooting. As I listened to the information about what happened on the radio, Frances told me about the lockdown practices they have had at her middle school. I couldn’t help but think back to when I was in school….there was never a drill for a shooter or a thought about someone possibly coming into the school to harm us. Then I thought about the parents who worried about their children when they heard about the shooting and the parents who were unlucky enough to get the call that their child did not survive. Or worse, their child was the shooter. My heartfelt condolences to those families.

Then my mind drifted as I drove and I thought about what it would be like if that happened to us. Don’t we all normally do that? We try to put ourselves into the shoes of others….whether it is a tragedy or winning the lottery…we try to imagine what we would do.

Yet, I wonder, where do we stop imagining ourselves in someone else’s shoes and start thinking it will never happen to us? Isn’t that why people still smoke? Still ride in vehicles without seatbelts? Still drink and drive? Still mix alcohol and drugs? In typical human fashion, we all tend to gravitate to the “I am so sorry that happened to them, but it won’t happen to me” scenario.

I think every single one of us is guilty of this in some shape or form. We have empathy for others going through a horrible crisis, but we stop short of becoming petrified we will also fall victim to whatever atrocity lurks around us. Probably some form of self preservation at its rawest form.

Then, before you have any idea what is going on, you become immersed smack dab in the middle of some awful thing that is ruining your life and the lives of your family members. In my case it is Younger Onset Alzheimer’s. And it sucks. Big time. As I have mentioned many times, I have friends and family that are helping out and doing whatever they can to make this tough road a little smoother. But no matter what they do, they can’t REALLY help. They can’t cure Jim. They can’t stop the progression. They can’t save our children from losing their Dad. They can’t change the fact Frances’ and Brads’ childhoods will be encased in Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s. They watch, they listen, they do. Then they go home and get on with their lives with their healthy families. They see us and are grateful they aren’t us. They know it could happen to them, but think it won’t.

I am not here to be a “Debbie Downer” but let me point out something to each of you: as you get older, the chance that either you or someone you love (parent, spouse, sibling, friend) will succumb to the horrors of a dementia is unbelievably high. Unless a cure, a vaccine or some type of treatment is found, we are all going to feel the excruciating pain and agony of dementia. And the financial burden. Which, in all honesty becomes so consuming you find yourself unable to focus on the person you care so deeply about because you are just trying to survive. And when your loved one is diagnosed, it will be too late to pour in money and try to have your voice heard. If you want to save them or possibly yourself, the time is NOW to do something.

Yes, we all feel like the bad stuff is horrific when it is happening to someone else and we are saddened, yet we are confident it won’t happen to us. What are you going to do when it does?

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posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (14)

Sink or Swim Time

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Yep. I am still in a bit of a funk. I am fully aware of my melancholy, yet I just can’t seem to pull myself into a brighter mood. There always seems to be something going wrong or something getting broken, misplaced or needing to be done (house painted, porch replaced, etc.). I swear, sometimes I think there really is a dark cloud that lives over me. I could really use a ray of sunshine. Not just for a moment, but for an extended period.  It is a never ending cycle and I just need a break. A break from decisions, from work, from being a “single” parent, from worrying about Jim and his future. While I say this, a tiny voice is on repeat: BREAK? WHY SHOULD YOU GET A BREAK? YOU HAVENT EVEN GOTTEN TO THE REALLY HARD PART YET!

Yep, I know what is headed our way and I sometimes wonder if that makes everything personified. Even so, I am desperate to raise the children in a positive environment. Yet, I am not sure there is a lot of positive vibes floating around when I am such a grump. I know there are some people who follow our story who have lost loved ones to something other than Alzheimer’s. I think when you lose a loved one, it is a universal understanding and bond that is formed with others that have gone through the same pain. But there is something about Alzheimer’s Disease that seems to be a little crueler. I do not, in any way, mean to disrespect those that have lost someone to cancer or any other sickness. It all hurts. It all makes you lonely and sad and the loss itself is the same. But I think the costs associated with the long term care, the frustrations of “babysitting” your spouse or your parent (or sibling) for such an extended period of time, the pure hopelessness felt every time you visit the doctor and there is no treatment plan therefore no hope, the mourning that is done day in and day out and then the overwhelming lack of time to mourn as you are embedded in the routine of worry, exasperation and financial struggles that can ruin your family forever. I realized just a few days ago that part of my problem was the fact I need time to let go of Jim and to lament the loss of our marriage, our family, our dreams, our relationship and come up with a plan to help the children do the same. But I don’t have time. I am not allowed or able to take the breather that usually comes with the loss of a spouse. Because I haven’t actually lost him. He is right here. Playing tennis. Eating dinner. Walking the dog. But he isn’t. He is so not here. And I am so not able to truly allow myself to let him go. So here I am, treading water, wondering how long I can keep it up.

I need help. Help fighting this war. I need to know that there is something better coming. My husband is dying from a disease that has no cure and no real treatments. It runs in his family. I am asking EVERYONE to help us. What can you do? You can write your Congressperson. Don’t ask them for more money for Alzheimer’s research, DEMAND it. Demand they listen.  Here is a link to a previous post about why you should help us advocate. Please ask them to support the Alzheimer’s Accountability Act. For more information click here. Then follow up with them and let them know you are paying attention!

When I follow the news and listen or read about proposed spending on things that I just don’t feel are as important as finding a cure for a disease that has been around over a hundred years and yet we are no closer to keeping someone afflicted alive longer or providing a way to cure it or prevent it all together, I just want to scream. Not only are we not providing what is needed for the patients, we are doing huge injustices each and every day to caregivers. Caregivers are getting worn out, used up and kicked to the curb over and over again. Each person who is responsible for an Alzheimer’s patient, must not only figure out finances for care and lost wages, actual care to be provided, often times losing their own jobs, and they must try to navigate through mounds of paperwork and technical terminology to make sure every “i” is doted and “t” crossed so they MIGHT get some sort of help. It is a disgrace how much burden is added to people who are struggling to come to terms with the fact that someone they love so dearly is dying.  Then, to add salt to the wound,  they are forced to prove they can’t pay for care or told they did something wrong and must re-submit the same paperwork they have already submitted 2 times or they must spend down the retirement they need to survive themselves in order to get help with care for their loved one. IT IS INSANE HOW THIS SYSTEM IS SO MESSED UP!!! None of this process makes any sense and yet, here we are, The United States, the leader of the free world…..definitely NOT a leader in the fight against Alzheimer’s Disease. Why? Can someone please explain to me why this isn’t more of an urgency and why we are having to fight so hard to be heard? Maybe then I can relax and I can have faith that things will be better for Frances and Brad.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (14)

A Day in the Life

 

Frances and I  April 2002.

Frances and I
April 2002.

“Um…. I…. Um.…Did you….What am I….. Uh… I….uh.”

“Yes, Jim. Go ahead.”

“Uh, the front. Uh…. do you want me to….ummm….the front.”

“The front yard?”

“Yes.”

“What?”

“Uh, the uh part like a fur collar….Uh. Mmmm. By the flag. Like a collar. Uhhh…fur collar around.”
“The boxwood hedge?”

“No.”

“The liriope?”

“No.”

“The part,….uh, the part….fur. Fur collar. Um….Around……Around the uh, around the front tree.”

“The liriope is around the tree. That must be what you are talking about. The stuff that looks like long grass?”

“Yes.”

“That is liriope.”

“Do you want me to trim it?”

“No. You do that in the winter. You did it in Feb.”

“Oh. Ok.”

Another conversation that shows Jims’ decline. Another heartbreak. Another slip into a future that I am not looking forward to and don’t really want to live through.

Another frustrating situation for both of us. He is frustrated trying to explain himself and I am frustrated trying to understand him. The kids are frustrated. We joke that it is a game of charades, but you can only laugh so much at the fact your father cannot explain a simple thought to you.

I am in a constant state of despair. I just don’t have any answers and I don’t have an easy way out. I don’t see anything that will make this plight an easy one. An uneasiness seems to haunt me. Finances. The house. The yard. The kids. My job. Jim. His decline is on a more steady course than in past years. It is noticeable. It is impossible to ignore. There is a feeling that stays with me now; it is unshakable. A feeling of being in trouble. Like when I was a teenager and I knew I had done something wrong and it was only a matter of time before my parents found out and I would soon be in trouble. No matter what I am doing, who I am with or where I am, a sense of imminent doom looms overhead.

Brad and I  April 2008

Brad and I April 2008 Thank you Patti Brown for this perfect photo.

What have I done? What can I do different? How can I get out of this and save us from the terrible future ahead? What am I doing wrong? Should I have gone back to work sooner? Should I have saved every penny we ever made? How am I going to take care of me and the kids? How am I going to take care of Jim and work full time? What kind of person will I be when all of this is over? Will it ever be over? What kind of person am I for thinking this? I am horrible. I should not be thinking about me and my future. I should only be thinking of Jim and the kids. But, what am I going to do about the kids? What if the kids get this one day? Oh God. No. Please. Please don’t let my babies get this. I couldn’t take it. I would rather die than watch them succumb to Alzheimer’s. I might as well quit right now. I have to do something. What can I do?

Talk Karen. That is about all you are good at these days. Talk.  Get everyone you know to write their Congressmen. March up to D.C. again and don’t leave until they have a cure. Move to D.C.  Start a war like they have never seen. Wait. I can’t do that. I have to take care of Jim and work and take the kids to practice. Ok, then get everyone else to do that too. Will they? Will others care that my kids, my life, will possibly be taken from me when they are older? If they were getting this now, when they were young, people would care. But they will still be my little ones even when they are grown. They will be all I have left. Why can’t everyone see that? Why can’t everyone in the world stop and listen and care? Why can’t some really rich billionaire who spends thousands of dollars on a single dinner just give a few million to this? Wouldn’t they do that if it was their own children at risk?

What do I have to do? I can’t let them get this. I can’t not do something. What am I going to do for dinner tonight? I don’t think we have anything in the fridge and I don’t have time to go by the store. I could ask Jim to run to the store. Oh. That’s right. He isn’t driving anymore. I wonder if I took his license too soon. No, I did the right thing. I wonder if the kids have gotten their stuff done.I wonder if Brad read and if Frances cleaned her room.  I should call the house. Oh, I can’t. I have to call back Mr. Jones for work. I am tired. I wish I could just go home and take a nap. I wish we had a screened in porch so I could sit and take a nap in it. Uggh. I still need to sort a load of laundry and pay those bills that came in last week. Wait. Wasn’t it Jen’s birthday? Did I call her? Yes. I think I did. No. I might not have. Did I call back Melissa? Didn’t she call me and leave a message? I think that was a couple of days ago. Oh my God. My memory is getting as bad as Jim’s. What will I do if the kids get this one day and I do too? Who will take care of them if I am sick? What if I get in a wreck? Who will take them if I die now? What if Mom and Dad die right after I die? I need to make another appointment with the attorney and get that settled. Who should I make guardians? What would happen to Jim? Would the kids know I loved them more than anything? I should write them both letters. I don’t think Jim ever wrote those letters to the kids like I asked him to. What if I get cancer?  Who would take care of me and the kids at the same time? Mom and Dad would, but that would be a lot on them. What would I do with Jim? I can’t get sick. What if I do die though?

Who would pick up the fight if I am not here to do this? I wonder if any of my friends would? I wonder if the kids would? I need to do something. Maybe I should go jogging when I get home. I can’t. I have to start dinner and I need to work on those pictures from Alaska and I need to straighten up my desk and I have the book I am trying to read and I would really like to sit on the couch and watch a movie. Yes. A movie and a cold beer would be nice.I haven’t sat and watched TV in a long time. I think it has been a few weeks. What was the last thing I watched? I can’t remember. Maybe I will do that. I deserve it. Wait.  We don’t have any beer. I need to go to the store anyway. I wonder what I can fix for dinner tonight?

Frances and Brad. Vancouver. July 2014.

Frances and Brad. Vancouver. July 2014.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (17)

Fire in the Hole

 

Our group from Virginia meeting with Congressman Scott Rigell

Our group from Virginia meeting with Congressman Scott Rigell

Jim had a great birthday. He turned 52. Hmmm. At one point in my life, that seemed really, really old. Now, it seems young. Not really young, but young. Much too young to have Alzheimer’s Disease.

Sometimes it is almost comical to meet someone new and through the course of the new relationship and conversations explain to them that Jim has this disease. Nearly every single person is taken back. They are a little shocked. You can watch for it, wait about 10 seconds after you tell them and BAMM. You see the complete confusion and then a bit of sympathy and then, if we make them comfortable, calmness and acceptance. All in less than a minute. How I wish our journey through this were so easy to see and work through.

Our visit this past week to D.C. was a quick one. We were able to learn a lot and visit with advocates we have met through the years and re-connect and commiserate together. There are some really awesome and amazing families that are dealing with the same thing Jim and I are, they just don’t have a blog. They have the same pain and suffering and the same desire to help. They have the same needs and the same worries. There are so many of us, it is really scary.

We were able to relax a small bit and we were able to be part of the solution. Jim was awesome. He was full of life and vigor, much more so than I have seen in him in months. It was great to see. I still had to help him with some minor things that last year I didn’t, but overall, I could see his spirits, his demeanor and his thought process had gotten a jolt. He was ALIVE again. Not that he isn’t normally, but in D.C., Jim was witty and chatty and really happy. I loved seeing him this way. He didn’t shave to meet with our elected officials. I didn’t say anything and it didn’t matter. He didn’t put on a tie. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t remember everyone’s name or who we met with or how old he just turned. It didn’t matter. He was still smiling and happy and we had a good time. Again, I was reminded how much more patience I have with him when the kids aren’t around. A few days later I spent 2 days with them without Jim and also had plenty of patience. I somehow need to expand my bubble of patience to deal with all 3 at a time…..a work in progress but one I will not stop striving towards.

Life is so full of challenges. We all face them. Some are much harder than others. Everyone at some point in time faces heartache and pain. It is how we deal with this pain and heartache that will determine the future from that point forward. When the pain and heartbreak are stretched out over years and years, it becomes harder to keep that perspective and stay the course.

While in D.C., we walked the hallowed marble halls of Congress. The first time we walked them I was so nervous I could have thrown up. Ok, not really thrown up, but it was really nerve-wracking. Our first year, I could feel my heartbeat in my chest with sheer nervousness. I was going to be meeting and speaking with someone much more important than me.

This year, my heart skipped beats again, but not from nervousness. I am no longer timid or shy: I have realized that in the 5 years since Jim was diagnosed, there have been no changes in treatments or any new breakthroughs that will stave off this disease. Now when I march down the Halls of Congress my heart beats with determination and I can feel my blood pumping with my resolve to be heard and with the pressure of a time bomb ticking away. When I hear my heels echoing down those spacious hallways, I think of the men and women behind those doors and how they have the power to change the course of my children’s life. They can save Frances and Brad. They can, with one fell swoop of a pen, save my children from falling victim to the same horrendous fate of their Grandmother, Uncle and Father. Now when I walk those expansive halls of Congress, I do so without fear but with shear determination and with no sympathy for excuses. We do not travel all the way there to be given pretexts and put offs. We do not make accommodations so that others will feel comfortable in their ineptness.

There is no more time. The time is now. How can anyone, with any kind of intelligence not see the necessity and urgency? It is written in black and white.

Yes, Jim had a great trip and so I had a great trip. Now we are back to the grind of everyday life.

Thank you to everyone that participated in the forum or contacted their elected official to let them know how important this conversation is. Please keep up the fight and the battle. We are making progress and we will win. We will all keep moving forward until we find a cure.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (4)

The Purple Brigade are Coming to Town

 

Younger Onset Alzheimer's, Advocacy, Washington D.C.

Jim and I at the Capitol, April 2013.

When I participated in a roundtable speaking engagement recently, I was privileged to meet some wonderful caregivers. They were from all over the country. They had stories to share, just like we do. They were wonderful and I loved meeting them and listening to their frustrations, their sadness, their daily struggles. We all could commiserate together and naturally form a bond. It seems whenever I meet other caregivers, we almost instantly form a bond. It is just what we do. There is an unspoken respect, love and support that comes along with the participation in the caregiver role.

Jim and I attending the National Alzheimer's Disease Advocacy Forum in Washington D.C., April 2013

Jim and I attending the National Alzheimer’s Disease Advocacy Forum in Washington D.C., April 2013

As we shared a few laughs and heartaches, I spoke about advocacy for Alzheimer’s. I explained that Jim and I have become quite outspoken and travel to Washington D.C. and write letters and ask for help on a regular basis. The table got quiet. Something suddenly dawned on me. So I asked them, “How many of you have asked your representatives to fund more research or have even spoken with them about your story?”  Guess what? Not a single one raised their hands. I was really surprised. These people are passionate about needing help. They were willing to come and participate in the roundtable. They wholeheartedly want to help. Yet, they had never thought to contact the people that can REALLY make an impact: Their representatives. Well, you know me….I made them promise right then and there that when they got back home they would contact their representatives and ask for help.

Jim, April 2013.

Jim, April 2013.

Tomorrow, Jim will celebrate his 52nd birthday. Part of me feels like I should throw together  a huge soiree with our friends and really celebrate how awesome he is. But, it is the same time as our annual purple brigade pilgrimage to Washington D.C. to meet with (hopefully) our representatives and join others from around the country who are just as ardent supporters as we are. We have made friends with some fellow advocates that we see  each year. (this is our 3rd year)

I asked Jim before we decided to go if that was how he wanted to spend his birthday. I explained to him the date coincided with his special day. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t flinch. He stated right away and with certainty that “yes, I want to go. That is much more important.”

So, off to D.C. we go.

I know many of you that read my words will be with us in spirit. You will be on our minds. You will be cheering for us and encouraging us. Thank you.

I ask EACH of you that read these words to help us. PLEASE. You don’t have to travel to D.C. to have your voice heard. Your representative has a local office. You can visit there. Your representative has a website and has a way to contact them through that site. Your representative has an address and will receive your letter. Your representative has an aide that will be answering the phone in their offices and you can call and leave a message. There are many ways to contact your Congressperson. There are NO excuses why you don’t.

Here is a link to a previous blog post I wrote about this subject. You will see two links ¾ of the way down. Click on these links to find out who your representatives are and how to contact them http://missingjim.com/2013/04/26/375/

Please don’t tell me you are too busy. If you have time to watch a 30 minute TV show, you have time to do this. If you have time to read a book, you have time to do this. If you have time to play Candy Crush or some other video game, you have time to do this. NOTHING is more important. Our voices need to be heard. There are millions of lives that are depending on enough money being thrown into research to either find a cure, a vaccine or a treatment that allows the disease to lie dormant in a person. If you can’t be bothered, then you aren’t allowed to complain when someone you love is afflicted and you are sitting at the doctor’s office waiting for them to tell you what medicine to take that will make them better. Unless something major happens in the research world, that scenario will NEVER happen. You will sit in the doctor’s office, in shock, waiting and hoping and leave with nothing but an appointment for 6 months later.

This is a birthday gift you could give to Jim that will not only keep on giving to our family, but to millions of others as well. Help Jim celebrate by writing or calling your representative right now.

So, while Jim and I can, we will descend on the Capital of the United States, purple banner slung across our shoulders, along with hundreds of others who are able to do the same. We will speak and we will find out soon enough if our voices and our pleas are heard.

Meeting with Senator Warner and his staff. April, 2012.

Meeting with Senator Warner and his staff. April, 2012.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (5)

Dear Mr. President…

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This is a letter I recently sent to President Obama. I hope you will not only read this letter, but take 5 minutes to write your own letter to your representatives and to President Obama. Write a letter to your local newspaper editor. Write a message to USA Today. Write to your local TV stations. It is time for you to share your story. Imagine if we ALL write letters and share our stories. 1000’s of voices can no longer be ignored. The time, the momentum and the need is here. Thank you for being part of the solution. We can’t do this without you.

Dear Mr. President,

Congratulations on your successful State of the Union address.  I was glad to hear that more people will have access to jobs and higher wages. I was happy to hear that our military is getting more support. I was grateful that childhood education is important to you.

I was extremely disappointed by the lack of reference to Alzheimer’s Disease. There was no mention of helping caregivers and funding more research to possibly find a cure or at least a treatment. Are you aware that Alzheimer’s Disease is the only cause of death among the top 10 in the U.S. without a way to prevent, cure or even slow its progression?

Let me introduce myself. My name is Karen Garner and I am 44 years old and live in Newport News, VA. I have two children, ages 9 and 13. I am married to retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant, James B. Garner. He is 51 and has Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. We have been dealing with the early stages for about 4 years now. He is getting worse. He is having difficulties with his short -term memory and finding the right words to start or finish a sentence. He can no longer multi task and has trouble finishing something he starts. Please keep in mind he was a Sr. Msgt. He worked hard and was a very proud serviceman. Now, he cannot keep a schedule straight or even figure out how to hang a picture. Unfortunately we both know these symptoms are the easy ones and his progression with the disease will continue to get worse month after month and year after year until he is no longer able to write, bathe himself or swallow.

We have been advocating in Washington, D.C. for a few years now, asking for more money and help. Although the budget passed this year includes the highest amount ever given for AD research, it is far from what is necessary to realize progress. Although there was money within the $122M increase allocated for support services, there is still not enough money for support for caregivers, who are going through severe struggles each day for years and years and years. This is not a quick disease. People live with Alzheimer’s an average of 4-8 years after noticing symptoms but up to 20. This is a disease that affects the whole family and destroys them.

It is time to move this epidemic where it belongs; at the top of the list of funding and awareness. Only then will a change take place. Do you know how much money was given to Alzheimer’s research funding in 2013? 480 million. That sounds like a lot to the lay person, but I am sure you can understand that in reality this is not a large sum. Not when compared to cancer (almost 6 Billion) or HIV/AIDS (just over 3 Billion) or Cardiovascular Disease (over 2 Billion). Those all have treatments and cures. They can have survivor walks. Alzheimer’s Disease cannot. There are no survivors. When you sit in front of the doctor and finally get somewhat of a diagnosis you are given no hope. No chance of survival. No good timeline. No support. No help. None. You are simply told to come back in 6 months.

As a country, we spend over $140 BILLION a year on Medicare and Medicaid for those with Alzheimer’s. Just to help take care of them, not even taking care of the caregivers. Please also keep in mind that $140 Billion for Medicare and Medicaid does not include the unpaid caregivers that have quite their jobs or now need medical help themselves after struggling to take care of their loved one that can no longer take care of themselves. Even our 9 year old son does not understand how we can give so much money to other ailments that have cures and treatments and survivors, but so little to something that affects so many and has nothing.

I could fill this letter with lots of statistics. I have already put more in than I am comfortable with. But it needs to be said. It needs to be talked about and it needs to be addressed.

If we do not do something NOW, this epidemic will bankrupt our country.

With all due respect, I am asking how you plan to address this national health crisis?

I have a very good reason. Actually TWO very good reasons. You see, my husband has Younger Onset and his brother died from Younger Onset and his Mother died from Younger Onset. They all started showing symptoms around the same age.

Mr. President, I am writing to you as a Mom of two equally beautiful, bright and amazing children and I am begging you to stand up for the millions of citizens of this country that are affected, will be affected and have no one to turn to for help. I am begging you to save our children. I am begging you to help save the millions of caregivers that are suffering unimaginable grief for years on end.

My hope is that before you leave office, you will be able to introduce the first Alzheimer’s Disease survivor. That would be a legacy unlike any other.

Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to this great land of ours. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thank you in advance for listening and making Alzheimer’s Disease a priority, just as was discussed in the recent G8 Summit in London.

Sincerely,

Karen H. Garner

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (6)

Younger Onset Alzheimer's, frustrations

Visiting Mount Charleston, NV 1996.

1:43 p.m.  What time do I need to pick Brad up from school today?

1:45 p.m.  Does Brad have Odyssey of the Mind today after school?

1:50 p.m.  I am sorry to bother you. What time do I need to get Brad up from school?

In the past few months, this has become the norm, not the exception. The norm. It is now the exception if Jim remembers something. It almost calls for a celebration.

Since he has started to decline more and more as far as short term memory, more friends and acquaintances have noticed a change. Just tonight someone asked me if his leg was ok because he seemed to be walking different. Yes he is. He is now doing an “old man shuffle” as I call it, most of the time. PJ’s are usually on by the time I get home from work. He says they are comfortable and I have no argument. Yep, pajamas are nice at 5:30 p.m. Wish I could put them on and relax for a night.

I hate Alzheimer’s Disease. I hate the fact I have no control over our destiny. I hate the fact that no matter what I do or how I do it, nothing is going to change. I hate the fact that I lose my temper. I hate the fact that I am so busy that I am seldom around for the kids when they really need me. I am working. I am working. I am working. I always seem to be working. Again, I am so grateful for having a job, but sometimes the 8- 5 grind doesn’t gel with the Alzheimer’s Disease/Kid meltdown/Life agenda. Plus I have a job that requires some nights and some early mornings. When my kids are both crying for me to stay home and telling me they don’t want to be left home with Dad, I am torn. I am torn because I want to stay. I need to work. I want to be there for them.  Yet we have bills and need my paycheck. It isn’t fair to Jim that they feel this way because I know how awesome of a Dad he is. He was. But I can’t. I can’t stay and I have to leave. I am a torn, broken woman. I think my dilemma is similar to that of a stay at home parent. Except my spouse is living with us. And instead of learning from mistakes like children usually do, my spouse is repeating the same annoying stuff. And we are supposed to understand and be patient and carry on like nothing is wrong.

I sometimes see other people who seem to have everything so easy. I know deep down this isn’t really the case, but when life is handing you lemons, it is hard to see how to make lemonade. It is getting harder and harder to keep the REAL Karen alive. The exasperated Karen seems to be pushing her way to the surface and I am trying so hard to not let her out. Now the smallest things become HUGE difficulties to deal with. The cable company screwing up. A birthday party coordination. Just trying to keep up with paying bills and going through the mail becomes tasks that should be congratulated  when done. Yep. I congratulate myself often now for things that were so simple, routine and easy just a year ago. Then if you throw in anything extra, like an oil change, coordinating a play date, a scam artist calling the house, changing any part of the daily schedule; it all becomes a huge undertaking.  Something so simple and easy becomes completely overwhelming, daunting and a burden that is almost insurmountable. It is insane how this happens, but it does.

Frances told me tonight,” Sometimes you seem to get upset with every little thing that isn’t done right or needs to be done. And sometimes you just don’t seem to care. We need to find a happy medium.”  Yes. She is correct. Yes. She is going to be 13 on Saturday. And YES, I am very proud of her. She gets it but that doesn’t mean it is any easier for her. I am trying to find that happy medium. But as I am constantly being pulled in so many different directions while watching Jim observe from the sidelines, I am struggling to get to that place. I know I can. I want to. I am trying. But, it sometimes appears impossible. But nothing is impossible if you are willing to try and want it bad enough.

It makes me so sad. There is no longer any input from Jim. He struggles each day just to follow his list and to follow a conversation. Sometimes he seems to be fine, but those moments are getting rarer and rarer. And that makes me sad. Even though I am aware of what is coming, when these stages hit, knowing what still lies ahead only makes me guilty for not appreciating what he still can do now.

I am a proud woman. I am a proud woman that has to accept help. I am a proud woman that has to accept sympathy and knowing looks and suggestive comments and do it with a smile while being gracious and grateful. Yes. I am grateful. For so much.  So very much. But just because I am grateful doesn’t mean I  cannot be resentful. I am resentful that I am not able to live up to my potential at my job. I am resentful that I am not able to be a better mother. I am resentful I can’t keep my house clean or clutter free. I am resentful that I no longer have a husband in the sense of the word but I am still married. I am resentful that my children live with their father but he cannot be the Dad that he is capable of being. I am resentful that we worked so hard on our marriage for so long and now our relationship is a joke. There is no communication. There is no intimacy. There is no support. There is no acknowledgement of anything sacrificed or done on behalf of anyone. I am just done. Done with it all. But I can’t be. I will get up, fix a meal, clean, work, check homework, drive to practice, work, and sleep. Sleep is my friend. And my enemy. When I sleep too much, I don’t get enough done.

It is a bitter time in my life. I never knew how strong I could be or how strong I would have to be. I am realizing it now.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized and have Comments (12)

Funding Anyone?

Alzheimer's funding, alzheimer's disease

Last month I was driving to work in the early hours of the morning and I got angry. I was listening to a story on NPR about how in the 2003 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush committed 15 BILLION dollars to help fight AIDS world wide. I commend him and think that those efforts a decade ago are being felt now in the accomplishments seen in the fight against AIDS. Yes, I understand there are still people dying from AIDS, but the numbers are down. People are able to live productive, relatively healthy lives after a diagnosis. There is now hope, where there once was none. Truth be told, the US has spent more than $50 BILLION worldwide since that speech on the global AIDS fight.

Do you know how much our government has budgeted right now for Alzheimer’s Disease research? $480 MILLION. That is a long way from a billion and certainly an even longer way from $15 BILLION, let alone $50 BILLION.

Just to be clear about how ridiculous the numbers really are: our government spends OVER $140 BILLION a year on Medicare and Medicaid for those with Alzheimer’s Disease. They spend $480 MILLION on research to find a cure so that they won’t have to spend an increasingly astronomical amount on care. Are you getting the picture here?

WHY CAN’T WE COMMIT THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY FOR A DISEASE THAT HAS NO CURE, IS GUARANTEED TO BANKRUPT NOT ONLY OUR COUNTRY BUT DOZENS OF OTHER COUNTRIES AND DRAINS FINANCES, EMOTIONS AND FAMILIES FOR YEARS AND DECADES?

It is hard to compare apples to apples. You never want to have your words misunderstood. I am not, in any way saying we shouldn’t support the fight against AIDS or any other disease. If you are someone who is fighting that fight or losing a family member to it, the last thing you want is some blowhard talking about cutting funding and moving it to another worthy cause. I am not asking for any cuts to be made for other disease research.

They are all worthy causes.

alzheimer's disease, funding for research

My mother suffered a heart attack not that long ago. I was scared. I was completely taken by surprise and rushed to be by her side. But after a few days she was home, taking it easy and a year later she is enjoying celebrating 50 years of marriage to my father. I still worry and I still harp on her about taking care of herself, but somehow it is so completely different than watching Jim succumb to the overall evils of Alzheimer’s Disease. She was able to go back to her “normal” life and not lose any mental or physical capacities. There are not financial implications. There are no long term plans needed. She has a warning, she has doctors orders, she has hope.

My father is a prostate and skin cancer survivor many times over. Again, with each diagnosis, surgery and waiting game, I have gone through an array of emotions, which always includes lots of worrying, crying and plain terror. So far, he has remained cancer free, only needing large chunks of skin removed every couple of years. His prostate cancer seems to be in check. Over all, I think that having these scares has made me that much more grateful to still have both of my parents in my life. I am thankful each and every day they are here to help me because they are, at times, my saving grace and my shelter from this storm.

Cancer and heart disease run in my family. Both sides. 3 out of 4 grandparents have succumbed to one form or another of cancer. 3 cousins have been diagnosed, 2 are still with us; Because of advances in treatments which came directly from research. I have lost family members that I loved dearly to cancer. I raised over $4800 while training for and eventually running a half marathon for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in San Francisco. I dedicated that run to my cousin Jay, who passed away much too young, at 14, of leukemia.

I have seen the fight and the inability to win. But along the way, I believe the difference is in the ability to have hope. To have the chance to fight. The chance to win. With Alzheimer’s Disease, victims are not given any of those things. You are given a diagnosis and sent home to do research or not. To cry, or not. To tell others, or not. To raise awareness, or not. To see the doctor in 6 months, or not. To make financial plans, or not. To seek spiritual help, or not. There are NO rules, guidelines, or definitive game plans. You are left to your own devices.

I am beyond grateful for the fact that others before me took up other causes that needed research, funding, awareness and cures.  People that lost loved ones. People that were hurt, angry, sad, lost and eventually found by their hard work and dedication to a cause that had taken from them someone that could not be replaced.

Can anyone explain to me why we can’t do the same for Alzheimer’s Disease? Why can’t more people speak up? Why can’t more funds be allocated and disbursed? Is it going to take another Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and marches in the streets?

The problem arises with the simple fact that Alzheimer’s Disease isn’t contagious (though it can be hereditary).  It affects “old people” (tell that to the thousands of Younger Onset patients). No children are affected (except for the children and grandchildren that are scarred for life by witnessing the Long Goodbye).There doesn’t seem to be a lot of outrage at the lack of answers or cures.

Well, there is outrage with a few of us. I am mad. I am mad that there are people that can speak up and don’t. I am mad that people whisper and try to hide what they are going through. I am mad that frivolous things are funded but more research and programs to help families dealing with this horrible plight are not. I am mad that there are so many of us who have no help or hope or support.

Which would you rather be diagnosed with? Cancer, AIDS, Heart Disease or Alzheimer’s Disease? 3 out of those 4 have treatments and survivors. 1 does not.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (10)

Happy 365 Chances to Make Someone Else Happy

Happy-New-Years-sayings-quotes-1-570x759

Happy New Year. We say these words to each other in merriment. We say them to strangers as a greeting. It is something we wish for one another but how often do we help others actually have a happy new year? All year long?  Do we celebrate together and then toss the sentiments aside once the celebration has worn off? Do we discard our desire for others to be happy along with our annual resolutions? Why is it so difficult to stick to lists of things we want to better about ourselves? It is also sometimes just as difficult to remain a steadfast partner, friend and caregiver.

When the clock was striking 2000, everyone was worried about Y2K…remember? Jim and I brought that significant time passage in together on the island of Martinique. It was a blast. We had a spitball fight with the other dinner guests at our resort (a tradition in France, so we were told) and met and danced and rang in a new century with people from all over the world. We had to fly out the next day and there was lots of chatter about whether or not the planes would be able to take off. They did. We were disappointed. We were more than willing to stay another day in paradise. Later that year I would become pregnant with Frances and our family would grow and become enhanced in ways I could have never imagined. I also couldn’t have imagined at the time that in just a few years I would be mourning Jim every day; while he is still fully alive and completely healthy other than his early stages of Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. I suppose it is a blessing to not have a crystal ball. I look back and can see our youth, our love, our happiness. I cannot fathom feeling, looking or living that way again. All I can see now is Jim’s progression and the decisions and work I have laid out before me. How I long to have the ability to be carefree and full of options and life as we were just years ago.

It will be a new year. But will it be a happy one? We are ultimately all in charge of our own happiness, regardless of what life hands us. Keeping this in mind, I believe the only way I will be able to remain happy is to focus on the kids. Focus on helping others. Focus on making it a “happy all year long” for the many caregivers that are going through this journey. I will remain steadfast in my determination to speak out and educate. I have been blessed this past year with new friends that have stepped up to the plate, old friends that have been a beacon of support and love, much needed assistance from perfect strangers and the love and affection of two children, two parents, a brother and a husband that remind me everyday what matters most. I want to pay it forward. With a little money and a lot of time, I plan on doing this. Just finding that money and that time….

It is hard, very hard, to remain strong day in and day out. It is hard to rely on others for help. It is easy to concentrate on helping others at the same time we ourselves are needing help.

It will be interesting to read these words again in 365 days to see how I feel, where we are and what changes have occurred in our world.

I ask that each of you focus on making 2014 a year to find wonders that surround you, find love from within and to help others make this a happy year, all year long. The benefits you will receive will far outweigh those that you give. And it will make our world a better place.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comment (1)

Merry Christmas Story Telling

 

You-Are-Not-Alone-In-This-Motivational-Love-QuotesI want to wish each and every person a very Merry Christmas. When I started this blog back in February, I had no clue of the reach I would have around the world. I have been amazed at the response and I have been humbled by the support and words of encouragement. I am inspired daily to keep going and to do more. Sometimes I am not sure I can. Other times I don’t think there is anything that can stop me. As I sit looking at all I have to do in order to be ready for Christmas morning, I would be remiss if I didn’t write a special post to let all of you know how much your love and kindness have meant to me. I get many notes and messages telling me how grateful many readers are that I share our story. But our story is really the story of  many. In the process, stories are shared with me. I cry. I laugh. I get inspired. I would like to take this special time of the year to share some of the very touching e-mails that have been sent to me. My hope in sharing these heart wrenching tales is to help you not feel alone and to help educate those not familiar with the long goodbye process of Alzheimer’s Disease. I am sorry I am not able to share ALL of the notes I have gotten, but since there are well over 200, I will save some for later and  keep this a reasonable length. I thought Christmas would be a wonderful time to share these stories with EVERYONE. For me, the best Christmas present would be a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. Since that doesn’t seem likely between now and tomorrow, I will settle for lots of help and support getting a cure to come about in the next year. (I am ambitious) Or at least help spreading the word and contacting those that can make a difference; Your Congressmen and women. Please let them know how important it is to keep funding for Alzheimer’s Disease Research in the budget. Let them know you are watching and passionate about this. There is no other way we are going to see this happen. Please help with my Christmas Wish by contacting them. Please visit this page for links and information on contacting your representative. There are no excuses not to do this.

In the meantime, please read some (I will continue to share over the coming months) enlightening and heartbreaking stories:

You have written about my thoughts, concerns, breakdowns, anger, and hope……lessness. My husband was an airline pilot.  Smart.  Funny. After a year of tests, he was finally diagnosed at 55.  I had two children at home, the youngest was 12.  I know you know my story… you wrote about it. We, too, became involved.  Peter (my husband) was chosen to be a member of the National Alzheimer’s Association Advisory Board.  We gave speeches.  We too, walked on Washington and spoke to our Congressmen.  We were featured in ads for the Alzheimer’s Assoc. and in training videos for caregivers.  For the past 5 years our newspaper has been doing an article on Peter which appears on the front page of the Sunday-after-Thanksgiving edition.  They are following him ‘until the end’.  We were asked to appear on FOX news and with Tom Brokaw, and on and on.  It was exciting and we felt we were helping the cause. 

Yesterday, the day I read a portion of your blog, I put Depends on Peter for the first time.  It was long overdue, but I haven’t wanted to take that step. Two things you wrote on that first post I read, jumped out at me and made me realize that perhaps I am not alone in the thoughts that are constantly doing battle in my head. Shortly before Peter was diagnosed, I found out he had been cheating.  I was in the process of figuring out if i wanted to leave (yes, I did) when he was diagnosed.  “My parents raised me to take the high road, not the easy road.”   I stayed.  Then, when our public appearances waned and his life was not as busy,  I found out his “wandering” had continued.  He asked me for a separation “So I don’t have to lie to them (his girlfriends) anymore. “We could not afford two households, and I knew there was no one else who would care for him when things got bad, so I stayed.  I made his meals and washed his clothes while he went to bars and took trips with his girlfriend of the minute.  Since AD no longer afforded him the ability to cover his tracks, the kids found out and told me I should leave him.  My kids!!  But “my parents raised me to take the high road, not the easy road.” So, I stayed. I didn’t want my kids to end up having to take care of him when all the girlfriends figured out what was going on and left.  Which they did. I once again took off his wet and dirtied clothes and once again scrubbed the floor. Then I went and got the Depends .  “This…this…cardboard” he said as I put them on him.  “It will be ok.  This kind doesn’t get wet” I said.

In September, Peter lost his balance, fell head first into the street and suffered (what I believe) was a concussion.  He was taken to the hospital via ambulance as he had a large gash in his head for which he received stitches.  He has not been the same since.  He was in the hospital for over a week, then rehab as he was no longer able to stand nor walk.  After two weeks of rehab and no improvement, insurance refused to pay any longer and he was to be released.  However, they would not release him to my care as he is considered a “two-person assist”.  I was given three days to find a facility that would accept him.  On Oct. 18, he was admitted into a personal care home.  From the moment of the fall he dramatically changed and has not recovered…at all.   He can no longer stand, walk, see (very little), speak (very little and not intelligible), nor feed himself and is completely incontinent.  He only knows who I am on rare occasions and doesn’t recognize our children at all.  He is not aware of his surroundings. Sometimes, though, as I try and make some conversation which he shows no sign of understanding, he begins to cry.   It has been a very difficult few months.  I wish I could say life has become easier, but it has not.  Under the circumstances, I thought I would have a sense of relief, but I do not.  I just find myself on another path of dealing with this disease, completely as unprepared as I found myself on the past paths. 

          -Thank you J for sharing such a personal and intimate look into your new life.

This time of year is really hard for both Henry and me. I don’t know about you but I feel I am doing more and more and Henry is unable to do less and less.  I can’t believe what a decline I have noticed within the past few weeks.  I don’t know if it is because he feels down at this time of year or that his situation is progressing. I am really scared as even though I know what is happening, I don’t want it to happen.  I try to do all the things we used to do together, having to see if there is some kind of happy response.  We went for our Christmas tree and when he was well this was such a happy time, picking the tree, tying in on the car, getting in the house and then starting to decorate it.  This year it was entirely different.  It was like Henry didn’t care one way or another whether the tree is there or not.  It seems that everything I am trying to reinvent of our past is not working and then I become depressed because I have to stop and say listen what is wrong with you, it is never going to be like that again.  Even though I know this, I always have a glimmer of hope that one day all this will go away and he will be like he was 25 years ago.  I miss those times.

Our tradition was on Christmas Eve we would have all my family get together for a big dinner and celebration with my Mom and Dad in addition to all the children, grandchildren, etc.  and Christmas Day, we would celebrate a traditional Hispanic Christmas with Henry’s entire family.  I am trying to keep my Mom and Dad’s tradition of having the entire family over and I have decided do this the past few years because I feel if one of us don’t try to keep our family together, we will be stranded all over the place and sooner or later everyone will be parted from each other.  This year, I am hosting the Christmas Eve tradition again, but in all honesty Karen, my heart is so heavy that I am just going through the motions.  I am scared how Henry is going to be because one moment he can be fine with people and the next moment, he can either be very withdrawn or to the point of becoming angry and being embarrassing as to what he says.   Even though people know the situation, no one really knows what it is like unless they live it on a daily basis.  The different mood swings, the point of being frightened, the crying as to why or what is happening….Even though people say they understand, they really can’t imagine how difficult it is just to keep a somewhat normal daily life.

Henry spends most of his day watching TV.  He is afraid to go outside without me because he is afraid of getting lost even though I have the Medic Alert for him.  He tells me he is happy being with the dog until I come home from work.  I don’t know if this is such a good idea and have tried even with the Doctor’s help but no accomplishments.

-Thank you Denise for opening up to me and for your very kind words.

My husband was diagnosed in February of this year with Early Onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 56.

He retired as an Alabama State Trooper in July 2010, due to what we were told after a hospital stay was stress and anxiety. He started being treated for stress in 2007. He began misplacing things all of the time. He always thought we were moving his keys, watch, wallet, you name it. He was a bomb technician, firearms instructor, Swat team specialist and also a contract employee for Homeland Defense as an instructor, in EOD and Haz-mat. He was very educated and was a highly respected law enforcement officer for over 33 years. He started having problems with money and numbers in 2010, which increased his stress levels. He was taken to the hospital, for what they thought was a heart attack and after a battery of tests, the doctor said it was stress and he needed to retire. So we did. He worked part time at a friend’s gun shop, only to become agitated on a daily basis. He had problems completing the background paperwork for gun purchases, also with making change, etc. We went to our family doctor several times in 2011 and in 2012 he had a brain scan done and he told us it was stress causing mild cognitive impairment. He scored 23 on the mini mental evaluation in his office. He changed his medication once again and told us to reduce stress as much as possible. There were so many times I just wanted to leave, but I loved him with all my heart and couldn’t do that to our children as well. It scares me the thought ever went through my mind. We have three sons all living at home. Our youngest is 13, our middle son will be 21 in January and just graduated the police academy and our oldest is 22 and is in his 4th year in college.

We went back again in August of 2012, he repeated the mini mental evaluation and he scored 21. Two weeks before our appointment for the neuropsychologist testing, we found out our insurance didn’t cover mental health, so our portion of the bill was $950.00, due at the time of the visit. We didn’t have the money, so I called and asked for a referral to a neurologist and we were able to get an appointment in a little over a week. When they started asking him they day, the month, year, who was governor, what county he was in, the list goes on and he couldn’t answer most of the questions. I was in a state of shock. They did an EEG and it showed slowed brain activity, they started him on Aricept and he referred us to UAB and we were able to see the Director of Neurology. He is the most amazing doctor I’ve ever met. He scored in the low teens in the mental evaluations. He ordered a PET scan, but our insurance wouldn’t cover it, so he had a SPECT scan done instead. The doctor said it was basically an older version of the PET scan. He called me the evening after the scan at home. We had been home about three hours and he told me John had Alzheimer’s. He said he was pretty sure that’s what it was, but wanted to scan to confirm everything. He said he could not drive any longer and told me to apply for social security disability benefits. He is in the moderate stage of Alzheimer’s and he is too far advanced for any of the clinical trials. I cried after speaking with the doctor. How do you tell someone this kind of news? I knew something was very wrong for a long time, but was misdiagnosed for several years. I never in a million years would have dreamed this would happen to us at such a young age. I am 45 and John is 57.  Your blog reminds me of the overwhelming stress, the grieving for what’s been lost and what is ahead in the future. Bringing home the groceries and not getting any help because he doesn’t pay attention that I’m carrying in six bags at once. I don’t have to tell you, because you are living it too.

– Thank you Kimberly. You speak for so many.

posted by Karen in Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (5)