Editor’s Note: Some 15 million Americans provide care for 15 million Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. To honor their dedication, we are offering this series of stories written by caregivers who have agreed to share their personal tribute message to the community.
by John Greer, Special to the Roundup
My name is John Greer and my wife Ruth (Bunny is her endeared name) has Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in 2005. Over these past eight years, I believed I could care for her on my own with ease ... I was fit and very active.
When the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group started in Payson in December 2011, I joined to learn what my future held. One of the greatest lessons for the other caregivers was “don’t do this journey alone, there are many resources available to help and because the medical community does not completely understand the disease, the associated behaviors from your loved one can be overwhelming ... It is OK to say I cannot do it by myself any longer.”
At first, I chose not to listen to the message and have since discovered “hindsight is a wonderful thing!”
This is my story.
On our way home from Flagstaff, after minor surgery for me, I awakened from a nap on the drive home. Bunny was driving 20 miles per hour on Lake Mary Road, clenching the steering wheel. On the curves, she used the whole road, weaving into the left lane. I told her to pull over and park the car so I could drive home. She was aware of her poor driving ability and when I told her she would never drive again, she agreed.
When I arrived home, I made an appointment with Dr. Lesueur to determine if she’d had a stroke. During the appointment, he diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s. I realized Bunny had been showing signs for years, although the changes were subtle and gradual. The biggest changes were her moods and growing silence. Her laughter and our conversations I miss every day ... she is now stone-faced.
One of my favorite interests with Bunny was dropping a kayak in our mountain lakes. It was a wonderful way to enjoy nature together, clear your mind and find relaxation.
The last three years we have not been able to kayak ... Bunny requires 24/7 attention. Sometimes I would sit alone in our trailer for personal time for myself because I became agitated with the frustration of Bunny’s behaviors; they were overwhelming. In the last three years, with the help of friends and family, I spent two weekends away from Bunny.
Caregivers support groups
The Alzheimer’s Caregivers Support Group invites caregivers, families, service providers and members of the community to attend any or all of the following:
• First and third Wednesdays of the month from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Senior Center.
• Second and fourth Thursdays of the month from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Senior Center.
For more details, call Shirley, (602) 697-4870 or Mary, (928) 474-3560. The Payson Senior Center is located at 514 W. Main St.
December 2012 was the turning point. I was fixing breakfast and called Bunny to come eat ... she was nowhere to be found. I called 911 and she was found 2-1/2 miles from home. When I arrived at the ER, I was approached by a first responder asking, “Why had I thrown my wife out of the house?” Bunny had told police I had done this.
I explained that my wife had Alzheimer’s and that she was wearing a MedicAlert bracelet to prove she had the disease. She had been in the ER four hours and no one had recognized the MedicAlert bracelet. I have become passionate about the need for our first responders and hospitals to be familiar with the MedicAlert system.
Bunny underwent many needless tests because no one noticed the bracelet. I am now an ambassador with MedicAlert Foundation and have made presentations to the Payson Town Council, Payson Police Department, Payson Fire Department and Hellsgate Fire Department. This incident persuaded me to broadcast my story to help other caregivers.
Over these years, I have become Bunny’s total support system. I do all the driving, cleaning, cooking, her personal care (bathing is one of the most difficult care-giving tasks), attending to her day-to-day personal care activities. I must follow up constantly because I discovered she had used sunscreen for deodorant and body lotion for shampoo.
Bunny currently knows a face, but calls them her sister or mother. She gets too agitated to sit and repeats herself every 15 minutes. She knows I am her husband, but does not talk. She will kiss and hug me, but there is no talking.
Loved ones with Alzheimer’s think life is normal and hunky dory ... the caregiver is the one who needs help.
I was diagnosed with Stage 1 esophageal cancer this past spring. My father and two brothers had it. My cancer was caught early enough that after removal of my esophagus and stretching of my stomach to replace my esophagus, I am cancer free. The diagnosis was difficult, but struggling to care for Bunny at the same time has taken a heavy toll on my spirits and physical being.
Bunny was admitted into Rim Country Health this summer while I went for surgery and recovery. Recently her scores for Alzheimer’s have dropped from 30 to 2, so her medications have been increased. Bunny will not be coming home.
I have many friends in Payson ... the people in Payson grow on you more than the town! I received three dozen cards from friends in the hospital compared to the one card I received when I retired in California.
Looking back, the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group meetings helped me to see that if a caregiver chooses to do this journey alone, it will take them down, both physically and emotionally.
You have to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. Get the biggest support group you can find. Share with them and let them share with you. Keep a smile and take things as they happen ... don’t get angry. I learned how to conduct myself with Bunny after hearing the stories from the other caregivers, which showed me honesty, laughter, tears and openness are gifts we give to each other.
Do not be afraid to share your story ... it will help you keep your wits, don’t do this alone.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Walk to End Alzheimer's
The Walk to End Alzheimer's at Green Valley Park on Saturday, Sept. 21 will start at 9 a.m. to raise money for care, support and research. End Alzheimer’s sponsors the walk in 600 communities. Participants get sponsors to raise money to combat the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death. Register at www.alz.org.