By Carol A. Stabler ~
Cathy was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 48. How could this be? She was in the prime of life and eagerly anticipating seeing her three sons off to college, spend more time with friends, and enjoy traveling with her husband. At first, shocked by the news, Cathy and her husband vowed to learn all they could about the disease and what their future would hold. Their main concern was how to tell their sons of their mom’s diagnosis. Mom, who had bandaged scrapes, driven carpools, and cheered them on at sporting events, was stricken with a devastating disease – one for which there is no cure – one that would rob her of her memory, her dignity, and ultimately, her life.
The meeting with their sons was heartfelt. When the initial shock of the news wore off, and the tears subsided, the family resolved to make Cathy a priority. Their sons said, “mom, you did everything for us for the first 17 years of our life. Now it’s payback time.”
At the recommendation of a friend, Cathy contacted AWARE, an Alzheimer’s support organization, many of whose members have had personal experience caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. A component fund of the Dallas Foundation, AWARE, is dedicated to fighting Alzheimer’s by providing funding and support to programs, projects, and research provided by nonprofit organizations that actively help individuals affected by Alzheimer’s in Dallas and the North Texas area.
An AWARE member provided Cathy and her family with contact information for several AWARE-funded programs. At the Baylor AT&T Memory Center, they met with a trained care and support specialist who provided disease education, caregiver skill training, support groups, and a 24/7 helpline.
They learned of Meaningful Moments, a Dallas Museum of Art program designed to provide participants with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers with ways to engage in art. Through a variety of tactile and sensory techniques, the program offers a continuing cultural opportunity to everyone regardless of their ability. Now in its tenth year, Meaningful Moments holds programs at the Museum, as well as in memory care residences throughout Dallas.
Cathy’s boys signed up for Stomping Ground Comedy. A free workshop that uses improvisational comedy techniques to teach caregivers practical communication skills that are specific to the needs of Alzheimer’s patients. Through interactive games and activities, the boys are developing a new understanding of the disease and a roadmap of how to effectively communicate with their mom.
Cathy and her family continue to learn more and fight on. While their future is not what they had envisioned, they take comfort in the fact that knowledge is power. They are preparing for what lies ahead, and they cherish the moments when Cathy can still laugh at their jokes and blow kisses at bedtime.