Support group helps Alzheimer’s caregivers


SIDNEY — June 15 was a difficult day for Diane Anderson, of Sidney.

That’s the day she moved her father into the memory care unit of LanePark Sidney.

Harvey “Dick” Hougen, who has a Ph.D. in history, is one of the most decorated veterans living in Shelby County, according to Jim Hall, of Sidney, whose mother is in a like unit at Dorothy Love. Hall and Anderson commiserated with each other during a meeting of the Sidney/Shelby County Alzheimer’s Support Group recently. After a hiatus of more than a year, the group has begun to meet again in the Amos Community Center at Dorothy Love Retirement Community.

Caregivers and family members of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias meet monthly to share experiences and get tips from each other. The hour-long meetings, scheduled at 6 p.m. on the third Monday of the month, are free and open to all. They are facilitated by Dorothy Love social workers Robin Schmit and Megan Greve. Both received training from experts at the Miami Valley Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Hall and Anderson were two of 11 people who attended the June meeting. Among the others were a group of four siblings and a daughter-in-law of a mother in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, two sisters whose sister has been diagnosed with the disease, a man who cares for his wife in their home and a woman whose husband is in a memory care unit at a residential facility.

Conversation was open, honest and lively. Questions about what stages caregivers should expect their ill loved ones to go through were answered with, “Everyone’s different.”

“If you go to the Internet and you look up ‘lung cancer,’ you can see what the progression of the disease will be,” Schmit said. “There’s nothing like that with Alzheimer’s.”

“(Doctors) aren’t even sure it’s Alzheimer’s until the person has died and they can do an autopsy,” Hall said.

Anderson was frank about her feelings of guilt when it comes to caring for her father.

“He’ll say to me, ‘I really want to get the hell out of here.’ And I think, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’” she said. Guilt is a common reaction among caregivers, she was told. Because caring becomes a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week necessity, caregivers suffer burnout quickly and then guilt about burning out. That’s why experts recommend turning the job over to professionals.

“You’re not a son, a sister, a husband anymore. You’re a caregiver,” Greve said. “You’re not failing a person if you give caregiving to someone else. Then you’re free to love them.”

Hougen was a career Army man who served two tours of duty in Vietnam during the war and came home with a Silver Star and three Bronze Stars. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor and would have received a Distinguished Service Cross had he not stopped the paperwork from going through because he thought he didn’t deserve the medal. Following his military retirement in 1973, he went to college and then taught at Kansas State University.

Anderson said that even though he now has trouble remembering where the bathroom is, he knows that his memory is slipping away.

“‘I’m afraid I’m going to lose everything I ever learned,’ he said to me,” Anderson noted. “He gets very depressed. When someone comes to visit, he’s so happy. And you hope that he remembers later that they were there and isn’t so depressed. But he doesn’t.”

Hall’s mother had to learn to depend on the caregivers in the memory unit instead of him, he said. Now in her mid-90s, she has lived at Dorothy Love for some time, but she still talks about wanting to drive and wanting to go home.

The group discussed guardianship and various powers of attorney.

“You want to get the power of attorney in place as soon as possible,” Hall advised. Greve noted that a power of attorney doesn’t go into effect until it needs to because the sufferer is incapacitated.

“So you’re not taking power away from them but assuring them that what they want is what will take place if something happens to them,” she said.

Schmit recommended a book, “The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias and Memory Loss,” by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins.

For information about the support group, call Schmit at 497-6544. For information about Alzheimer’s disease, call 800-232-3900.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824 and follow her on Twitter @PASpeelmanSDN.