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Educating families affected by Alzheimer’s

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness month, and with the holidays swiftly approaching, it is the perfect opportunity to pause for a moment to consider what an Alzheimer’s diagnosis means for both the person facing the disease and their family.

Beth Dow, who speaks locally on how families deal with the diagnosis and recently wrote a book for families of Alzheimer’s patients, said that the most important thing to remember is that it takes more than one person to care for someone with Alzheimer’s, a fact that she said many family members are not initially ready to face.

“They think they can do it by themselves, and they can’t,” Dow said. “They have to ask for help, and extended family members have to help too. They have to step up to help.”

Dow has seen the effects of Alzheimer’s firsthand, both in her work with Home Helpers Home Care and within her own family.

“My grandmother had vascular dementia,” Dow said. “My father-in-law had frontal lobe temporal dementia, and my mother currently has Alzheimer’s. She has had Alzheimer’s for the last 15 years.”

She said that when her grandmother was diagnosed with vascular dementia, she did not initially realize the toll that caring for her alone would take on her grandfather.

“When I started out with this, first with my grandmamma, I didn’t know where to go for help, so understanding that people don’t know where to go for help and that they don’t know how to help the caregiver [is important],” Dow said.

“We didn’t know how to help my granddaddy because he said he was OK, and he could do it, and we believed that.”

Her grandfather died before her grandmother, and now she is educating families on the importance of building a support network so that one person does not feel personally responsible for meeting the ailing family member’s needs alone.

She also emphasized the importance of confirming the diagnoses with a neurologist in order to receive the best treatment options since some diseases have similar symptoms but very different treatments.

Further, she said that even the way that friends and acquaintances talk about loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s can sometimes be unintentionally hurtful.

“I remember one time, someone was talking to me about my mama, and they said, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky to still have her,’” Dow said. “I remember how hurtful that was because my mother hasn’t been able to communicate. She doesn’t walk. She doesn’t do anything. She can’t make eye contact. I don’t really feel lucky to have her, and for caregivers, that is hard for them to admit. So, that personal experience of understanding what they are really going through — you do feel like an orphan, even though you have a parent. You do feel like a widow, even though you have a spouse, and people don’t understand that.”

Locally, Vernon Woods Retirement Community hosts an Alzheimer’s Support Group on the second Thursday of every month at 5:30 p.m. that is free to the public. 

For more information on Dow or her book “My Loved One Has Dementia. Now What?” email her at beth@solutionsbybeth.com.