Nov 062012
 

This blog is dedicated to three of our First Ladies who have led the crusade for caregivers: Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter.  All three are passionate advocates for our nation’s 65 million caregivers because they have taken the caregiving journey themselves.

Hillary Clinton – The Congressional Caregiving Champion

Photo: Numinaimages

It was a poignant moment when I read last November 1 that Hillary Clinton had lost her 92-year-old mother, Dorothy Rodham.  Poignant for two reasons:

1)    November 1 marks the beginning of National Family Caregiver Month

2)     Clinton had been a long-time advocate of the nation’s caregivers when she was a Senator from New York.  She supporting several pieces of proposed legislation that offered more services to support those family members who are providing 80 percent of the long-term care to keep a loved one living at home as long as possible. 

Her mother’s illness, a topic that was kept private from the invasive world of 24/7 news media, made Clinton one of those caregivers she had championed so often in Congress.  In an interview from Clinton’s campaign days for the Democratic presidential nomination, she credited her mother with giving her the tools — and toughness — to enter politics.  In the end, her mother had also given her daughter the tools to be a compassionate caregiver.


Photo: Richard Guinon/Dreamstime

Nancy Reagan – The Loving, Long Good-bye to a Spouse with Alzheimer’s

Nancy and Ronald Reagan’s touching affection for each other was evident in the letter former President Reagan wrote to tell the world he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  In this letter, President Reagan not only helped shine his celebrity spotlight on a disease which many Americans did not understand, but he also highlighted the concern he had for Nancy who would be caring for him.  He understood the difficult emotional toll it would take on his wife.

 

As the caregivers of today’s more than 5 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease know, Nancy lived the last 10 years of her husband’s life known to dementia caregivers as “the long good-bye.” While Nancy had the resources to care for her husband in ways most Americans do not, the emotional toll it took on her cannot be ignored.  

What was perhaps most heartwarming was that the strained relationship Nancy had with her stepchildren and with her own son and daughter actually improved over the course of President Reagan’s disease diagnosis and decline.  Family dynamics are sometimes difficult to navigate during caregiving and can lead to added stress and strife.  But, in this instance, it brought a family closer together which is one of the gifts that can come from caregiving.

Since President Reagan’s passing, Nancy has become a passionate advocate for Alzheimer’s disease awareness and education and especially advocating for the research around embryonic stem cells that can hopefully lead to a cure.  She also speaks about her personal caregiving journey and the need to recognize caregivers as a crucial part of the “care team” around a loved one.

Rosalynn Carter – Caring for Parents On Both Ends of Her Life

Photo: Wayne Perkins/The Carter Center

Long recognized as one of the pioneers of the caregiving movement, Rosalynn Carter is known for her famous description of the life event of caregiving in America:

You have been a caregiver

You are a caregiver

You will be a caregiver

Or someone will be caring for you

 In her book, Helping Yourself Help Others – A Book for Caregivers, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter writes, “We can learn to approach caregiving as a blessing as well as a challenging task.” 

She knows of what she speaks firsthand:  Rosalynn was only 12-years-old when her father was diagnosed with terminal leukemia.  As the eldest daughter, she helped care for her ailing father and supported her mother by also caring for her younger siblings.  She took up caregiving again for several relatives with cancer after she left the White House and most recently was caregiver for her mother who died in 2000 at age 94.

Rosalynn’s gift to caregivers comes from a lifetime of understanding the challenges — emotional, physical and financial — that accompany caring for a loved one.  A long-time devoted and determined advocate for those Americans with mental health issues, Rosalynn Carter is also behind the founding of the Rosalynn Carter Institute (RCI) for Caregiving at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Georgia.

While women may be seen as “the power behind the throne,” these First Ladies are proof that women also put the heart into caregiving.

 Learn More:

About Blog Author Sherri Snelling

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and is currently writing a book about celebrities who have been caregivers.

Oct 292012
 

I always say, if you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s—then you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s. Many people don’t realize how each individual has a unique experience with the disease—unique symptoms, a unique path to diagnosis and unique needs.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregiver Month, and as a member of the Alzheimer’s Association National Early-Stage Advisory Group, I’m proud to share my story to help raise awareness of disease and those affected.

A year ago, at age 62, I was working as a third-grade teacher when I noticed I was having problems with balance and gait. As a two-time breast cancer survivor, I went to see my doctor, who suspected the cancer had returned and spread to my brain. You can imagine my shock and devastation when a series of tests revealed I had Alzheimer’s disease.

It took me a long time to come to terms with the diagnosis, but I found solace and support in the Alzheimer’s Association. I decided that while I was still able, I had to “Get real” with the details of my diagnosis and start planning for the future.

Although I retired from teaching, my background in education has been a great benefit in my journey with Alzheimer’s. In my previous job as a principal, I adopted the habit of taking copious notes, writing down conversations I had with parents, students and teachers. Now, I use that same practice to stay on top of my day-to-day activities. I write down everything in a notebook I carry with me: what I did, who I saw, what I said, the names of doctors and books I want to read. I stay active in the field of education by tutoring and working at after-school programs.

My life with Alzheimer’s is somewhat unique because I live alone. To keep myself safe, I have routines—I have a specific place where I keep my keys and I have a process to make sure the stove is turned off every night. Right now, I am still in the early stage of the disease, and very independent.

I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to plan for the future. I know there will come a day when I can no longer care for myself or manage my own finances. My brother-in-law has power of attorney, and I’ve started to visit long-term care facilities in my area.

I’m fortunate to have found a steady source of support in my friend Jean. We taught together for a couple of years before my diagnosis, but I don’t know what I’d do without her now.  She keeps me social by inviting me to everything—and I mean everything! We read books and go to the movies together and discuss them. She sends me notes about things I might find interesting—just this morning, she emailed and told me to read the opinion column on the stimulus plan in our newspaper.  She makes me homemade chicken rice soup and chili. We have tickets to see “Jersey Boys” together later this month. 

In short, she is a beautiful person, inside and out. She nurtures my soul.

This November, I’m thinking of all of those facing Alzheimer’s, going through their own unique experiences with the disease—and of the many caregivers whose love and support is the most valuable gift of all. 

Learn More:

Janice Pfeilschifter lives in Aberdeen, North Carolina and is a member of the 2012 Alzheimer’s Association National Early-Stage Advisory Group. As an advisor, she hopes to share the perspective that life does not end with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Oct 312011
 
Scott Russell, Alzheimer's Association Board Member

November is National Family Caregiver Month, and I wanted to share some personal thoughts on the subject of caregivers.   I was a caregiver for my father, who passed away from Alzheimer’s 15 years ago, and I was diagnosed with the disease two-and -a-half years ago.

The past.
It has been almost 25 years since my father started to exhibit the signs of dementia.  Back in those days, Alzheimer’s was not well- known by doctors and certainly the general public.  Our family did not know what was wrong.  Like many caregivers, my mother was frustrated — irritated at his behavior, and at times angry.

My Father did not know what was happening, only that things were not right. He felt emasculated and often resorted to covering up his failings of memory and inability to do simple math (like figuring out the tip after dinner); he became isolated and depressed.

Unfortunately, many friends retreated from him as time went on, as they too, did not understand the disease.  They were afraid.  My father was afraid, too, but hid it well — at least for a while.  I believe that if we had known, had he known, had his friends known, we all would have been MUCH better at dealing with the disease. Of course, knowing is one thing; having the resources available to help people with the disease and caregivers cope is another.

Fast forward to the present.

I was in denial when I was diagnosed with early-onset (also known as younger-onset) Alzheimer’s until I received the diagnosis a second time.  Of course knowing is not easy, and I, too, went through some severe depression as I struggled to cope with its impact.

But now, with resources available through the Alzheimer’s Association, my caregivers (my wife, two sons and extended family) are much better at coping with this disease alongside me.  As a matter of fact, they are FANTASTIC.  And I have gained, too.  I am OPEN about my disease, and when I tell people, they embrace it, they do not retreat.

I am so proud of my family’s support in so many ways. My wife, Amy, has been a huge support for me.  On a daily basis, she reminds me to take my medicine, helps schedule my appointments, and provides transportation since I no longer drive. Amy encourages me to work nearly every day on the things that mean a lot to me, including daily hikes with the dog, exercising at the gym, and most importantly, painting the Alzi Animals (stuffed animals that I buy and paint for donations at Alzheimer’s Association events). Amy is always there to support me regardless of the occasion. I could not make it without her!

My two sons, Josh and Nick, inspire me to make the most out of the quality time I have left.  They encourage me to live the healthy, holistic life that means so much to me and keeps me chugging along.  Together, we hike, snowboard, and whenever we get the chance, play chess to keep my mind active.

For me, the one quality that keeps me happy and maintains my positive outlook on life is my family’s sense of humor!!  Being able to talk about my limitations with humor takes the edge off for me and my caregivers.  Maybe not all families use a sense of humor in their daily lives, but if I had to recommend just ONE thing to caregivers, it would be to use that sense of humor in a positive way, because it can excite the mind, defuse delicate situations, and makes us all smile a bit more every day.

My experience has taught me to embrace this disease, wave the purple flag and ADVOCATE for those who are affected. During National Family Caregiver Month it is especially important to acknowledge and celebrate those caregivers who know and love us, and help us cope with this disease in uniquely personal ways.

Scott Russell is a member of the National Board of Directors of the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Association 2011 Early-Stage Advisory Group. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009 at the age of 60; he is committed to raising awareness about the stigma attached to Alzheimer’s and the need to address this disease aggressively. Scott lives with his wife, Amy, in Ridgefield, Connecticut.  They have two sons, Joshua, an environmental activist (age 27), and Nick, a professional snowboarder (age 23).

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