Nov 182015

Laura HanniganIt’s a lot easier to say change isn’t easy than it is to experience change yourself.  I recently found this out firsthand when I said goodbye to friends, residents and coworkers at Brookdale Hillsborough, where I served as the Clare Bridge program manager for two years. In becoming the new executive director at Brookdale Hamilton, I wouldn’t be far away geographically, but away from the “family” I had grown to love.

Clare Bridge is Brookdale’s individualized and person-centered program designed to meet the specific needs of those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. We celebrated many daily moments of success at Hillsborough, including the success of our Hillsborough Walk Team’s efforts and fundraisers.

Brookdale Hillsborough WalkOver the past three years, the Hillsborough Walk Team picked up momentum and grew from raising $600 the first year, $1,800 the next year, to $6,000 with matching gifts in 2014.

Brookdale working TogetherWalk to End Alzheimer’s is an energizing event that we all look forward to all year long. It was a chilly day this year, but our hearts were warmed by the incredible crowds and inspirational speeches, as people proudly carried team banners. We were all so honored to be part of this impressive turnout supporting the Alzheimer’s Association. Words cannot express the warm feeling we all shared and carried home in our hearts from hearing the speeches, receiving the flowers, and for sharing such a special day with so many people.

After this year’s Walk, we asked residents, their families and each other for additional fundraising ideas. Boy, did we get some good ones! Our tireless team entertained guests, prepared and served great food, decorated the building and made these events a wonderful time for all. A silent auction was our biggest hit.

Brookdale Taking in the Autction Bids

The silent auction really was a family affair.  Residents, their families and Brookdale associates donated all types of items to be auctioned off.  From hand knitted afghans to new appliances and Waterford crystal, the spirit of giving filled the community.  It was lots of fun and, at times, seriously competitive.  Our assisted living resident Roz and a Clare Bridge resident’s family helped man the silent auction, challenging others to outbid each other, and thus encouraging families to donate more to this great cause.

Brookdale Families Enjoying Silent Auction

Between our Walk and our other fundraising events, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride in the Brookdale Hillsborough family. I, like so many others, have had family members who have had Alzheimer’s. I was touched by my grandmother’s experience and by the rough time my fun-loving uncle had with the disease.  When I play a tiny part in helping someone live at the highest level they can, I am so touched by the moment, and know I’m getting far more than I give.

Laura Hannigan and her Brookdale team of community associates, residents and resident families exceeded their wildest fundraising dreams for the 2015 Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Oct 272015

I first met my now-wife Shannon at work. I was her supervisor, and since she knew the responsibilities of the department inside and out, I leaned on her for assistance.

We started to get to know each other on a more personal level and then we started dating. She asked me out – I had no idea she liked me in that way! After dating for some time, she took me to Disney World and “proposed”; we had a beautiful wedding on the sands of Pensacola Beach by the Gulf of Mexico and rest is beautiful history.

Learning of my diagnosis sticks in my mind, but not due to feelings of sadness. I was focused on the beauty of my wife. After I asked my neurologist if I had Alzheimer’s and he said “yes,” I remember crying uncontrollably. All I could think of at that moment was what my mother was going through at the time. (Brian’s mother died of Alzheimer’s.) Shannon sensed that. She took my hand and said, “I love you and you will NOT go through this alone. I will always be right here.”

Since then, she has beautifully kept her word.brisha

Before my diagnosis, we travelled a lot; short trips, cruises, trips to New Orleans (my hometown) or Fayetteville, NC (hers) and our favorite destination, Disney World. I used to tell her: “I’m your driver, you’re my navigator and we will go wherever you want to go.” We laughed a lot.

Sadly, the travelling had to stop due to finances. When both of us were working, we could basically do whatever we wanted. That changed when I was no longer able to work. Shannon became the sole financial support. We had to downsize in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle for our college-aged daughter and our son in high school. Shannon has had to adjust to my mood swings, my confusion, my argumentative moments (wanting to do the things I used to but can no longer do, like driving) and losing part of who I used to be.

She has done it all with no complaints and with only unconditional love. She is simply amazing. I’m not sure what I did to deserve her.

Shannon’s biggest strengths are consistency and loyalty. When she makes a commitment, whether it’s professional or personal, she sticks to it – and expects everyone to do the same. These qualities have allowed her to reach a position of great responsibility as an operations manager for a realty company. Her job is hard work and requires long hours but she does it in order to provide for her family. I admire her every day for her strength as a person.

Her personality is a mystery to most but not to me. She is loving, tender, somewhat adventurous, quiet and the funniest person I have ever known. She doesn’t know she is funny, but her dry sense of humor keeps me in stitches most of the time. She talks back to the TV, she figures out who did it on the ‘Who Dunnit’ shows long before the plot is revealed and she loves the ID network. We still laugh a lot, which is wonderful.

I want to thank her and all caregivers. Caregivers – I saw how you took care of my mother, my father, my grandfather and my wife’s grandmother. It takes a certain special type of person to be able to do what you do, but you do it day in and day out. You never complain, you always wear a smile and you’re always there, taking care of your own family or of other families you treat like your own. You are unbelievably wonderful people and for those who are unable to thank you themselves, I thank you!

We can honor caregivers and care partners by giving them something they probably need or deserve – a period of time, whether it’s a few hours or a few days, to have time to relax. This could be a spa treatment, a weekend at a hotel, a manicure/pedicure. Don’t be afraid to ask a caregiver what they want so that you can give them something you know they would enjoy.

I want my care partner Shannon to know that plain and simple, she is my hero.

Shannon, I hope you never feel that the things you do go unnoticed or unappreciated. The vows we took were for better or for worse, in good and bad times, in sickness and in health. You probably never thought it would go to this extreme. Just know, if the tables were turned, I would be right where you are now. I love you unconditionally and you show me that love every day. My only hope is that you can see and feel it in return.


About the Author:  Brian LeBlanc was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s in 2014 at age 54. He carries the APOE-e4 genotype, a genetic mutation which increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. His mother, father, and maternal grandfather have all died with symptoms of the disease. As a member of the Alzheimer’s Association 2015 National Early-Stage Advisory Group, Brian would like to raise awareness of the impact of younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease and be a positive example for other newly diagnosed individuals. His mantra is, “I have Alzheimer’s, but it doesn’t have me!”

Brian and Shannon live in Pensacola, FL. Together they have three children.



Oct 272015

Photo credit: Heather Weston

Two years ago, when B. got her diagnosis, I made the same assumption that almost all newcomers to this challenging subject do. I thought it was all about the loved one who now had Alzheimer’s. She was the patient — or maybe the word I used more often was “victim.”

She was, and she is. But the challenge, I came to see, was just as formidable for me as it was for her. I don’t mean to sound cavalier here. Any of us, given a choice between having Alzheimer’s and caring for someone who does, would choose the caregiver role. I know that. I don’t ever minimize what B. faces every day, and how that challenge grows. But being a caregiver is hard. It is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Growing up in Bed-Stuy at the time I did, breaking out of what was one of New York’s toughest inner-city neighborhoods, finding jobs as a very black man in a white man’s world — that was easy compared to taking care of a wife with Alzheimer’s, day by day, hour by hour. Here are a few helpful suggestions I’ve learned through experience.

    • Read the literature. I know that sounds obvious, but the fact is that most caregivers read very little. For one thing, they’re occupied with caring for their loved one. I get it! But frankly, most feel they’ve done enough by just listening to what their doctor tells them. They really haven’t. There’s so much to learn in terms of diet, activity, ways of coping . . . I think you can get a lot of that from our book, but I’d urge you not to stop there. Knowledge helps. It helps your loved one, and it helps you, with specific suggestions on what to do and what not to do.
    • Learn as much as you can about the disease. Maybe this seems like extra homework, but I got fascinated by learning the science of what Alzheimer’s is. I found it oddly comforting to know what doctors have figured out so far—more so to learn what the paths are to a possible cure.
    • Get in touch with your local branch of the Alzheimer’s Association. There are many wonderful organizations out there, from those promoting research and drug trials to commonsense help for caregivers, and we list a number of them in our book. But the national Alzheimer’s Association is in a class by itself—a fount of information, with an unequaled network of local branches to offer all kinds of hands-on help.
    • In groups of three or more, don’t treat your loved one as if she doesn’t exist, and don’t refer to her in the third person. The most loving and well-intentioned caregiver can find himself icing his loved one out of the conversation—with her sitting right beside him. It’s understandable, especially if the disease has progressed to the point where the patient has lost all ability to follow the conversational thread. But even severely impaired patients tend to sense when they’re being excluded— I’d put that more in the spiritual than scientific realm—and to feel hurt and humiliated as a result.

Visit to learn more about the book Before I Forget.
  • Don’t try to finish a loved one’s sentences. Give her time to respond. If she can’t retrieve her thought after a long pause, gently prompt her with what you think she’s trying to say. When this started with B., I made the classic mistake of letting my frustrations get the better of me. B. would let a sentence trail off into space, and I’d jump in to finish it for her. As soon as I knew what she was trying to say, I’d go there first. I still get impatient—I’m only human—but I’ve gotten a lot better at letting B. take the time she needs. I try to be zen-like about it. I mean, after all, what’s the hurry?
  • Avoid being condescending or critical at all costs. It’s debilitating and simply doesn’t work. I tell you this from bitter experience. Before Alzheimer’s, B. and I never— ever—argued. Frankly, that wasn’t because we were both so level-headed. It was that B. was! I was the one with a temper; B. was just gracious enough to keep me calm. When her Alzheimer’s came on, B. was still calm—but I no longer was. I was mad—at fate, and yes, too often, mad at B. Slowly, I got over that and came to terms with the obvious. Alzheimer’s wasn’t B.’s fault, and my lashing out at her—when she forgot something I told her ten minutes before— was of no help or justification whatsoever. Here’s one thing that helped me: I started consciously keeping my conversation with B. to questions that could be answered “yes” or “no.” Instead of “What would you like to wear today?” I’d say “How about these black pants?” In the supermarket, same thing. Not “What shall we have for dinner tonight?” but rather “How about this salmon? With a little salad?” It made for a much happier B. She could participate in the decision and not feel left out—or, worse, hurt by a snappish remark from me.
  • Above all, never lose sight of the dignity within the human being who has the disease. This is so, so critical. Maybe it’s the most critical point of all. Patients get worse with Alzheimer’s—so far, that’s the unavoidable truth, without exception. As they do, they lose physical mobility along with their functioning minds. This is a terrible, terrible process for them—and for those who love and care for them. But even those with severe Alzheimer’s retain their humanity and remain, somewhere inside, the people we knew. We have to honor that, always, even to the last, both for their sakes and ours.

About the Author: Dan Gasby is husband and care partner to supermodel, restaurateur, magazine publisher, celebrity chef, and nationally known lifestyle maven B. Smith, who has younger-onset Alzheimer’s.

Dan has been a television media sales executive and a television producer for both network and syndicated programs. He helped publish and launch wife B’s eponymous magazine and helped cofound her lifestyle retail brand.



Oct 302014

In April 2013, Vern Gillmore was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. When Vern first started to experience the warning signs, he was not prepared to hear the words “Alzheimer’s disease.” Today Vern and his wife and care partner Karen are working together to educate others about the disease while facing their daily challenges head-on. They are just one couple whose story shows the power of love and teamwork during National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.vk1

In Vern’s Words

I have been athletic all my life. I couldn’t accept not having a healthy body. I’ve always prided myself on physical fitness and staying in good health, and suddenly I had anxiety and double vision and difficulty using familiar devices like the home computer.

I was a volunteer in disaster response, and when you work in those situations, you have to be able to make quick decisions. I volunteered during Hurricane Sandy in New York and realized when I returned home that I wasn’t as quick or alert as I should have been. I didn’t want to hurt people who were suffering by making a bad decision – that would have torn my heart out. I realized something was wrong with me. My mother and brother had Alzheimer’s, but I was in denial that the cause of my symptoms could be the same.

I have accepted that I have Alzheimer’s. I handle my frustrations by keeping busy. I love taking my dog outside, running her hard for an hour and see her enjoy the exercise as much as I do. Her happy wagging tail makes me happy.

At first I didn’t want to share my diagnosis with others.  I was embarrassed and ashamed. But then I realized that I didn’t do anything wrong to cause this diagnosis. Things have changed since my diagnosis. I now look forward to being able to talk openly about my Alzheimer’s. I now speak at churches, city centers and hospitals in my area because I know that many people are uninformed and that the general population needs to understand and learn more about Alzheimer’s disease.

My wife Karen is my care partner. She is observant and sharp. She doesn’t miss a beat.  She is why I was able to get back to what matters: I volunteer, participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and stay involved in whatever capacity I can.

In Karen’s Words

Vern and I met through a newspaper advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle during the ’90s. We were married for 20 years before the Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

I am the worrier in the family, vigilant 24/7. On a typical day, I manage our schedules and instill safe habits. Vern sets up his medications and I double-check them. I ask him the important questions before he goes out: do you have your wallet? Keys? Phone? GPS? We keep a list of phone numbers available should he become confused or need help when he goes out.

I have found the Alzheimer’s Association website to be a gold mine. It is simple – there is so much information on Alzheimer’s disease and it’s easy to read and understand. I chip away at the website, read books, and subscribe to neurology journals.

I think it is important for care partners and caregivers to know that it doesn’t make you a bad person when you experience frustrations. One of the biggest challenges I have come across is the changed communication style between Vern and I. It takes a lot of energy and never-ending patience to not take things he says or does personally.

When we went to a support group, it was the first time I didn’t feel all alone anymore. Everything I had been thinking and feeling was validated. Other people were experiencing the same emotions I was. I talked to people who were at the same place I was as a care partner and it gave me a renewed sense of energy.

Vern has renewed energy as well; he is now very interested in educating people about the disease as an Alzheimer’s Association National Early-Stage Advisor. He never really had a hobby other than running, and volunteering; but he has one now. His hobby remains volunteering, but he has added talking about Alzheimer’s and educating the public about how this disease impacts individuals and families.vk2

Vern and Karen’s story continues. And they are not alone.

In 2013, 15.5 million family and friends provided 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias – care valued at $220.2 billion. More than 60 percent of those Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers and care partners are women. Karen is just one of millions who found resources that have helped her on her journey as a care partner.

Vern Gillmore is a member of the Alzheimer’s Association 2014 National Early-Stage Advisory Group (ESAG) and is actively involved with the Utah Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. As an Advisor, Vern shares his story to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and help reduce the stigma attached to the disease.


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Feb 212014

Volunteers – both with and without Alzheimer’s disease – are needed to participate in actively enrolling clinical trials about Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Recruiting and retaining trial participants is one of the greatest obstacles to developing the next generation of  treatments and possibly future cures for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

TrialMatch® is a free matching service that connects individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, caregivers, healthy volunteers and physicians with current clinical studies. With a database of 130+ Alzheimer’s clinical trials, including both pharmacological (drug) and non-pharmacological (non-drug) studies being conducted across the country, TrialMatch is a unique opportunity to make a difference in your life and the life of others with Alzheimer’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s Association spoke with TrialMatch user Wanda Young regarding the benefits of her participation in these clinical studies. Wanda is caregiver for her husband, mother and brother, all of which have forms of dementia.  She is participating in clinical trials as a healthy volunteer.

Wanda initially called the Alzheimer’s Association to receive information about brain donation and was told about TrialMatch. “I Cwas interested in the opportunity because I wanted to learn; I’m always trying to learn more. I’m actually taking a psychology course right now, studying the brain. My kids think I’m a bit of a geek, always trying to absorb the most I can about a subject… Education is the key to everything.”

“TrialMatch allowed me to plan my days as a caregiver better. It helped me take a look at myself and how I was coping, and how I could better care for my loved ones. TrialMatch prepared me for what to expect and how to respond as my family members progress with their various dementias. The TrialMatch experiences allow me to think further beyond today and into the future.”

Wanda says that she saw the TrialMatch process not only as an outlet, but as a helpful planning tool that allowed her to plan major life decisions. “My time at the computer is my time alone and my time away from everything else I am experiencing. Using the computer on my own schedule is an easy way to receive new information. The studies I participated in helped me write my advance directive and allowed me to look at my own life and health. I also received tips for managing the medications of my family members, as well as helpful information about daily toiletry, tactful ways to redirect, travel to doctor appointments and so many helpful resources for each of them (my husband, mother and now my brother.) These are not easy tasks. They take time to complete, and only someone in my situation knows what it is like.”

Whether you are a caregiver, someone with Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia, or even a loved one of a caregiver or person with dementia, you are needed for future research. “I wish more physicians knew about TrialMatch and could tell their patients and their families about it. I used to have my own business; needless to say, my life is very different from what it used to be. Caregiving takes a major hit on your self-esteem. As a caregiver, I have gained a lot of weight due to the stressors in my life.  Without a support group or outside help, you can begin to feel like a non-entity, like you don’t exist. Thankfully I have been able to join a support group and have participated in groups at the Alzheimer’s Association to help with these feelings.”

Wanda recognizes that the more that she learns, the more she can change her life and the lives of others. TrialMatch educates caregivers and offers researchers valuable information only caregivers and those with Alzheimer’s  and other dementias can provide. “I believe I have become an advocate,” Wanda says. “I read, I experience, I learn, and I take what I know back to the nursing home to help those in need. I share what I have learned with the staff, other caregivers, the residents and their family members. You don’t feel so far-removed from researchers when you are able to participate in a trial. I felt as though someone heard me, and that in itself is empowering. TrialMatch has been a way to de-stress. Being a caregiver is a full-time job. People don’t realize how difficult it is. It is important that caregivers have a voice.  I thank TrialMatch for giving me this platform.”

Ultimately, the goal is always the same. “The TrialMatch studies help caregivers cope with the difficult task of taking care of our loved ones. You feel less alone, and more educated. You feel like someone cares – and understands. Ultimately, the reason anyone should participate is to get us closer to a cure. The goal is always to find a cure.”


Wanda Young has been married to her husband Lou, a former teacher, mentor and coach for nearly 30 years. They have two wonderful sons. Wanda participated in the Medications Assistance study and the Relationship between Chronic Stressors and Eating Behaviors in Dementia Family Caregivers study through the Alzheimer’s Association’s TrialMatch® program. She is the primary caregiver for her husband, her mother and her brother.FOTFE12_A

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Dec 232013

treeI miss Jim so much during Christmas time. I miss our discussions about what to get the kids and our families. I miss sitting next to our tree, looking at the lights and sharing quiet time together. I miss feeling excited, wondering what thoughtful present he placed under the tree. I miss singing songs, watching movies and so much more. Jim still throws out a hum (actually, lots of hums) during Christmas songs, but it isn’t the same. He is here, but he isn’t here.

Ever since I moved out into this great big world on my own, I have sent out cards every December. Except for last year. And the year before. And the two years before that. I haven’t had the energy. I haven’t felt jolly. And what would I put in there? Oh, life is great. We are watching Jim progress with Alzheimer’s and have no idea what our life will be like next year at this time. Merry Christmas.

The holidays are hard for Alzheimer’s families. I know this, yet I try to think that our holiday will be different. Last year, I was talking to a good friend and lamenting that I didn’t know if it would be our last “good” Christmas with Jim and that I needed to make it special. She very sternly replied, “You don’t know what is going to happen. This may be the best Christmas ever and next year may be even better. You need to just enjoy this Christmas.” It turns out, she was right! Last year we had an awesome Christmas. We probably had the best one ever.

I approached this year with similar hopes. But when I left for work on a recent Monday, I asked Jim to put the greenery and lights up on the porch, as he has done for as long as we have been together. While I was in a lunch meeting, Jim called. I heard him crying. “I just can’t do it. I can’t put them up.”  Why? Why did I ask him to do this? Why do we have to decorate our house for Christmas? Why can’t I find the time to do everything? Why? Why? Why?

I told him I was sorry, that I should have never asked him to do it. There really is this very fine line to walk. I have to give Jim tasks to do, yet I must make sure they are tasks he is able to do. Sometimes the “simplest” thing he did just a week ago seems foreign to him. Sometimes I forget he can’t do it. On top of that, Jim is still aware of what he isn’t able to do and it is a very hard pill for him to swallow.

Despite these moments – and the moments I feel the sadness and isolation this disease brings, I am still thankful for many things. I start with being thankful for my children. They are what motivates me, inspires me and keeps me smiling. I am thankful that I have Jim as my husband. He has been the most wonderful man, father and friend. Each day he continues to lead our family by example. He shows us all how to put our big pants on, live each day as it comes and do the best you can. He has no expectations, so he is never disappointed. That is all any of us can ask or hope for, no matter what our situation.

I am also thankful to all of those who donate time, money and energy to finding a cure to this horrible disease that has taken over my life and so many others’ lives. Thank you for being so generous and for believing that one day, we will all feel a sense of accomplishment. We will feel we were part of the solution.

Until that day, we will carry on our traditions for as long as we can. We may start new ones. We may lose a few along the way. But we will do it with each other. I love my family. I am grateful we have so much, when so many are in need. I am grateful it has been such a great year. I am grateful for all I have—and yet I still feel sad.

I miss Jim.


About the blog author: Karen Garner is a mother of a 9-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.  She works full time and is care partner for her husband, Jim, who is living with younger-onset Alzheimer’s. She shares her journey through her blog, Missing Jim.


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Nov 252013

When it comes to caring fwoman sleeps on the sofaor a parent, spouse or other loved one, sleep is not for beauty. It is essential to maintain health and the energy needed to be a caregiver. Uninterrupted, restorative sleep (7 to 9 hours) is recommended by most experts.

But for many of the nation’s 65 million family caregivers, sleep is an elusive luxury.  In fact, a National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) study on caregiver health risks found 87 percent of those caregivers surveyed suffered from insomnia.

If you suffer from insomnia or sleep deprivation, you are at risk for numerous health issues. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), more than 50 percent of people older than age 65 suffer sleep disorders that ultimately shorten their lives. This deprivation of sleep is called sleep debt. In an interview with WebMD, Susan Zafarlotfi, Ph.D., clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, said, “Sleep debt is like credit card debt. If you keep accumulating credit card debt, you will pay high interest rates or your account will be shut down until you pay it all off. If you accumulate too much sleep debt, your body will crash.”

Insomnia typically is a function of not being able to relax our minds and our bodies. To get some sleep, try these tips from Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, associate physician, Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard University:

1. Create a sleep-inducing environment: a dark, quiet, comfortable and cool room.

2. Do not use your bedroom for anything other than sleep or sex. No television, no laptops.

3. Make sure you do not eat at least two to three hours before bedtime, and avoid caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime. Note that smoking can cause trouble sleeping.

4. If you are tossing and turning at night and you cannot get those eyes closed, try drinking green or chamomile tea before bed or put a lavender pillow near your head to aid relaxation.

5. Create consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends. Our bodies have internal clocks called circadian rhythms that synchronize our active and rest states with biochemical reactions in our bodies. Circadian rhythms are based on light/dark cycles, with light having the most impact on our ability to get to and stay in restorative sleep.

For caregivers, it is time to awaken to the fact that sleep may be your best medicine.  Sleep well.

Excerpted from A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care by Sherri Snelling (Balboa Press).


About the Author 

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club and author of “A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care,” 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.

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Nov 142013


Next month, Mary Margaret and I will have been together 50 years.

She is a very positive gal, extremely caring and inclusive with her friends. I am not always a social animal. Mary, however, is very outgoing and makes new friends easily. These days, we are attached at the hip… but it wasn’t always this way.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

After I received the diagnosis our lives changed. At the time, Mary Margaret and I were living in California, but this news caused a great sense of stress, so we relocated to Minnesota to be closer to family. Moving wasn’t difficult – it actually took a weight off our shoulders. Then one of my wife’s friends said “Why don’t you call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24-hour helpline?” That really changed our lives. Not only have I become very involved in the Association, but so has Mary. During our career years, we really did very little together – now we do everything together. Our connection to the Alzheimer’s Association and shared commitment to raising awareness of the disease has brought us closer together as a couple.

Before I received the diagnosis, Mary and I were absorbed in our separate professional lives: She had her activities, and I had mine. If we got together on a Sunday, it was a big deal. It’s almost like we are dating all over again. She has turned me on to subjects I wouldn’t normally be interested in, and we have immersed ourselves in an eclectic series of programs. She is an avid reader and I’m not; however, through themed book presentations I have been able to learn something new with Mary, and that was a different experience for me. In turn, I have turned Mary on to the arts and now we are both passionate about visiting museums. There isn’t a local museum we haven’t been to!

We support each other.  The experience for caregivers and care partners is unique to the relationship. Mary and I support each other on a daily basis; we have to. She is the social contact, the “hostess with the mostess”, and I am her assistant, you might say, helping in the ways I can. I’m not a terribly patient person, so I am trying to be more patient, which is the least I can do.

The biggest thing that I notice is her relationship with other caregivers. I have a deep respect for the sacrifices that caregivers make every day to support individuals like me who are living with the disease. Today, there are more than 15 million unpaid caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in the United States. The role is demanding; they are our lifeblood.

Mary Margaret’s compassion extends beyond our relationship. She spends much of her free time talking with other caregivers; learning from others and offering support. She has hundreds of followers from all over the U.S. on Twitter, and she will refer articles to them to get feedback and exchange ideas. Compassion is in her genes! During National Caregiver Month, I want Mary Margaret and other caregivers to know that I am grateful. THANK YOU!

What makes a caregiver in your life special? Leave a comment here on the blog, or leave a tribute for a caregiver or care partner at the Caregiver Center.

About the blog authorKen Lehmann is a member of the Alzheimer’s Association 2013 National Early-Stage Advisory Group (ESAG), and he pays tribute to his wife and very special care partner Mary Margaret during National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. As an Advisor, Ken encourages others living with the disease to avoid worrying about the past, but to “live in the moment.” 

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Dec 032012

In the summer of 2011, my sister Gina and I held the distinction of having two parents in the hospital at the same time. On top of that, they were in different hospitals; one hour apart. I was drawn to our mother, and my sister was pulled to our Dad. We didn’t pressure each other. Our natural abilities paired with what each parent needed at the time.

Gina is a doctor in teacher’s clothing. She can read hospital monitors and converse with doctors as if she is their colleague.

That’s what my father needed as he suffered with lung cancer. My mother needed an emotional touchstone, while doctors ran test after test to determine whether she’d had a minor stroke and the extent of her dementia.

That would’ve been all well and good if I wasn’t also a mother of four, a wife, an adjunct professor, professional actress, small business owner, and writer who occasionally likes to sleep. (My list is no longer than most people these days.)

To be there for my Mother I had to borrow from all of those areas at a cost. When I was with her, I felt guilt for not tending to my other roles and vice versa.

This wasn’t going to be temporary, either. After her one week hospital stay, we transferred her to a nursing home with a dementia unit. She would not return to the home she’d lived in for forty-six years.

Embracing the role of caregiver

I felt responsible for my mother’s well-being, as if she were one of my children. It wasn’t until I embraced that notion that I found a way to manage the responsibility.

Attention given to mommy wasn’t “taking from” — it was “a part of” being a caretaker to my whole family. My heart was already open to taking care of Mommy. Embracing her as a dependent enabled me to open up my life and see a bigger picture.

Also, it didn’t take away from my Mother’s dignity, grace or everything she’d accomplished in her life that she needed my care. Circumstance had converted our relationship. I needed to let go of being “the child.” That label no longer applied, and I had to make a mental shift in my thinking to move forward.

I suppose I could have left my Mother’s care to the nursing home but the magnetic pull was always there.

The adoption of another dependent was the best way for me to take on my role as caregiver. A role that chose me but I was honored to play.

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About the Blog Author Tania Richard
In addition to being a wife, mother, writer, actress and teacher, Tania Richard was a caregiver for her mother, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2011 and passed away the following year. In the short time Tania was her mother’s caregiver, she learned a great deal about the challenges caregivers face.

2013 ALTY Blog Award Nominee

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.

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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. main site  |  Research  |  Advocacy  |  Care and support  |  Message boards  |  Disclaimer  |  Donate  |  Contact us  |  Sign up for e-news
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