Why I Walk… Jeff’s Story

I have been involved with the fight against Alzheimer’s Disease for a long time. Years ago when I heard there was going to be a local Alzheimer’s Association Board of Directors established in Quincy, I joined immediately. I had reason to do so. I really never shared that reason until now. 

It was the summer of 1983 when my world was upended with a phone call from my mother in Kansas City saying that my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It was my first encounter with the disease. Having your father’s memory fade away and living four hours away made for a difficult period in my life. My Dad’s physical status affected my mother’s well-being as well. My mother never drove a car and was completely dependent on my father. In the early stages, he would forget how to drive back home from the grocery store, a trip he made weekly for years. One day he drove the wrong way on a one-way street, and he had to discontinue driving. For several weeks after that, I would drive the four hours to Kansas City to take them to the store and help out wherever I could. I even offered to quit my job and move back home to assist, but my Mother would have no part of it.

After 18 months of being his caregiver, my mother made the brave and bold decision to put him in a nursing home nearby.  She would call a cab to visit him daily. This went on until he died in 1985. It was only two years after he was diagnosed and less than 6 months since he’d moved out of the house, but it seemed like 20 years. The constant concern for his well-being took a toll on my mother, brother (who was in the Air Force) and me, as well as our families.

Now, some 35 years later, one of my best friends and a former co-worker Dennis Oliver is dealing with Alzheimer’s. Having joined the Alzheimer’s Association Board in Quincy years ago and after going through what I did with my father, I could see the same symptoms in Dennis at the age of 59. I suggested that he see a doctor, but he fought the idea for the next 18 months. His quality of work began suffering from his forgetfulness and his frustration was increasing each and every day. I discussed the issue with him and his wife Lori again and he finally saw a doctor who diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s Disease. Lori, like my Mom, was dealing with his safety concerns at home and I took on the caregiver role for him at work. Eventually, he could no longer continue working as his memory was fading. As his boss, the conversations with him about ending his radio career were gut- wrenching. As his friend, they were nothing short of ripping my heart out! He really wanted to continue, but despite his fighting the idea, he knew he couldn’t.

It is a burden to live with Alzheimer’s, but the real burden falls in the lap of the caregiver. The constant concern for the loved one’s well-being can have negative effects on the caregiver’s health.  They need more help than anyone realizes – unless you have been there yourself. This is why I walk to End Alzheimer’s. This is why we need everyone to help where they can to end this dreaded disease. This is why we need to assist those with the disease as well as their caregivers.  I was a part of this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s on September 12th in Quincy. For those who also participated that day and secured funds for the cause, Dennis Oliver and I would like to thank you for helping the hundreds of others dealing with Alzheimer’s. We can only pray that this was our final Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease.

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