By: Emily Wisner
Tammy Joseph has had three loved ones, her grandmother, father, and father-in-law, pass away from Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, her mother is currently living with dementia and Parkinson’s. “All three of my loved ones eventually forgot who we were,” Tammy said. “Unless your family has had this happen to a loved one, it’s very difficult to understand what it’s like to have someone stop speaking to you and look through you with a blank stare because they can’t remember who you are.”
Tammy’s father was a farmer who raised horses and pigs, which was an integral part of his identity, but during his time with Alzheimer’s, he eventually couldn’t remember enough to talk about it with anyone. He would also go out and buy things for the farm even though he no longer lived there. “One day, he wrote a huge check to enter pigs into the county fair, but he didn’t have hogs to show,” Tammy said. “I tried to get him to give me the check so I could pretend to mail it, and he refused to give it to me. He actually pushed me out of the way so he could mail it. My Dad would have never treated me this way before Alzheimer’s.”
After that incident, they had to have a family meeting and take away his credit card. “Dad got so upset and started yelling at us that he worked his entire life for his money, and we had no right to take it away,” Tammy said. The family also had to take his license and truck away because it was no longer safe for him to drive. “My parents lived in a small town, so when my Dad was driving down the wrong side of the road, the police brought him home and told us that he shouldn’t be driving,” she said. “He said it was his truck and no one was going to keep him from driving it. We had to sell it so it would be out of his view.”
Tammy has vivid memories of these conversations, which are still painful for her to talk about today. “Eventually, because of his temper, we had to make the decision to medicate him so he wouldn’t hurt Mom or any of us if we didn’t do what he wanted,” she said. “What many people don’t understand is how difficult it is when you have to make decisions about ways to keep your loved one safe.”
Another difficult part for Tammy and her family was seeing her father lose his outgoing personality. He stopped talking about the farm. He stopped emailing his friends. And eventually, after having to go on medication for his temper, he barely even talked to Tammy’s mother. “Mom became very lonely because Dad was always a ‘talker,’” Tammy said.
After seeing so many of her loved ones battle Alzheimer’s, Tammy knows that it isn’t a quick disease. “In most cases, your loved one will live many years after being diagnosed, and they will need a lot of care,” she said. “This is really affecting our health care system, so in that way, this disease is affecting everyone that pays taxes.” In addition, she said that “it’s rare that I find someone who hasn’t had someone in their immediate family or a friend diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.”
Tammy’s mother is currently living with dementia, but the medication is helping for now. “I pray that she continues to know who we are,” Tammy said. “I walk in the Jacksonville Walk in hopes of raising money to fund research so that one day, my children won’t be sitting here writing their story of why they Walk to End Alzheimer’s.”