Adjusting to Alzheimer's

  • Follow Metro

Yong Suk White doesn't drive anymore.

Two incidents last year forced her to stop. She accidentally drove in the wrong lane on Wrightsboro Road. Then she drove to the end of the neighborhood, couldn't go on and couldn't turn around.

She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2007, when she was 65. Alzheimer's is a progressive, degenerative disease that affects brain function.

Now, her husband, Ralph, is her caregiver at their home in Grovetown.

They sold her car and registered with the Safe Return program, a precaution against wandering. Six of 10 people with Alzheimer's will wander and become lost, the Alzheimer's Association says.

Elizabeth Bert, an 85-year-old Augusta woman, was found dead July 5 after wandering from a personal care home three days prior.

To protect wanderers, Kathy Tuckey, the regional program and services director of the Alzheimer's Association office in Augusta, said the Safe Return/ Medic Alert bracelet lists information such as medications, caregiver contact, home address and local law enforcement. Registration is through the Alzheimer's Association.

When a loved one is lost, a caregiver can call an 800 number that generates alerts that are faxed to law enforcement.

Project Lifesaver, in which a person with Alzheimer's wears a device that can be tracked with radar, is another way to protect a patient. Locally, the program is available only in Columbia and Aiken counties. Other GPS tracking devices are available, but many are cost-prohibitive to financially strapped families, Mrs. Tuckey said.

"There is a misconception that wandering only happens in late-stage Alzheimer's, but it can also occur in early to moderate stages as well.

"We're talking about deadly risks here," she said.

Early diagnosis is helpful to address risks and prepare for the future. Family roles will change. The child takes on the parent's role, and a spouse's role will evolve because of the disease, Mrs. Tuckey said.

Mr. White, the spouse and caregiver, first took over cooking responsibilities when Mrs. White forgot how. She has problems remembering what groceries to buy and how to perform certain household chores.

It's a gradual adjustment, he said, based on what she can do.

The plan is to take care of her in the home until the end.

"That might not be possible," Mr. White said.

They arranged for power of attorney and a living will; their daughter has access to their bank account, just in case.

Martinez resident Karen Agrelius has been a caregiver in different capacities since her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's six years ago.

She spent a lot of time flying out to California, where her parents, John and Velma Anderson, live, dealing with doctors, bills and insurance companies on the phone. She called the Alzheimer's Association in Augusta to get information.

"You have to be their advocate," she said.

Eventually, her parents came to live with her, and she became the 24/7 caregiver. Her mother was also in poor health, having suffered a stroke.

Wandering was the biggest fear, Ms. Agrelius said.

Until you're going through the disease, you can't know how it is, Ms. Agrelius said.

"I wasn't prepared for the decisions I was going to have to make."

She would have to override her father's decisions, such as taking away his keys.

"It affects your family dynamic," she said.

Being a caregiver for her parents got to be too much. Her parents moved to an assisted living facility. They were unhappy, and after six months, they moved back to their home with a hired caregiver. The family recently decided to call in hospice.

Mrs. Tuckey often tells caregivers to remove "guilt" from their vocabulary, a word that indicates "us doing something purposely wrong."

She replaces it with "regret": for the disease.

Personal care homes and other facilities are available for families for whom in-home care by a relative is impractical, or impossible.

Elmcroft of Martinez has a special care unit for Alzheimer's patients, said Becky Waller, the resident director. The doors are secured with pass codes and alarms to prevent wandering. They have long hallways and a secured outside area with a fence and circular walkway for residents who feel the need to roam.

The staff meet with the family of a patient on a quarterly basis to discuss assessments of their behavior and any changes they've seen.

"There are some behaviors the families don't see," she said.

There is no cure for the disease. The Alzheimer's Association estimates 5.3 million Americans have the disease, but more are affected by it.

Emotionally, families experience not only guilt, but also grief, Ms. Agrelius said.

"They're not who they used to be," she said.

The stigma of the disease adds to the heartbreak.

"No one wants to believe you have Alzheimer's until you're so far into it," she said.

Reach Sarah Day Owen at (706) 823-3223 or


Here are some of the warning signs:

- Pacing

- Saying repeatedly they need to visit a certain family member or friend

- Looking for an exit

- Lack of constructive activity or boredom

- Too much going on in the environment, such as crowds


- Secure the building; use alarms or code-required doors

- Check in periodically with facility caregivers for a care plan

- Check for at least two staff members at all times, so if one is helping a resident, the other can provide oversight for the rest

- Ask about staff training and education on dementia and Alzheimer's


- Caregivers must sleep, so a bedside mat with an alarm during the night is useful

- Put alarms on doors

- Disguise doors with stop signs or pictures or place a black mat in front of a door

Source: Kathy Tuckey, Alzheimer's Association regional director


ATLANTA --- People who learn through genetic testing that they have a higher than average risk for Alzheimer's disease are able to handle the bad news pretty well, results from the first major study of this suggest.

The findings aren't enough evidence for doctors to urge more people to get genetic testing, said lead author, Dr. Robert Green. But they challenge assumptions that people will be devastated by a positive test result and misread it as certain proof they're doomed to Alzheimer's.

"Our participants were able to understand the risk and manage it," said Dr. Green, a researcher at the Boston University School of Medicine.

For many who learned they were not at increased risk, testing was a great relief.

The study is being published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

-- Associated Press

Comments (8) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Boston93 07/16/09 - 07:26 am
God Bless all alzheimer

God Bless all alzheimer patients and those that donate their time and hard work assisting them. God speed.

charliemanson 07/16/09 - 08:23 am
Nothing is sadder than being

Nothing is sadder than being unable to communicate your needs, desires, wants and fears to others.

soldout 07/16/09 - 10:23 am
If you know someone with

If you know someone with Alzheimer's get a copy of a newsletter by Dr. David G. Williams. The newsletter is called Alternatives and it is the February 2009 issue. It discusses an inexpensive possible cure using Nicotinamide. It is very cheap.
You will be encouraged and this is something safe that can be tried today before the human studies are finished.

purmkinhed 07/16/09 - 12:55 pm
I am in awe of Mr. White's

I am in awe of Mr. White's love and dedication to his wife! The picture of Mr. & Mrs. White sharing a kiss was extremely touching! God Bless everyone that is effected by this terrible disease.

soldout 07/16/09 - 08:18 pm
one study showed taking flu

one study showed taking flu shots on a regular basis raised your chances of having it by ten fold.

klsm 07/16/09 - 09:25 pm
I suggest everyone take one

I suggest everyone take one trip to the alzheimers ward of a nursing home. It will change your life dramatically. My grandfather spent his last 3 years in a nursing home and it was so hard to leave when I would visit him. He rarely knew who I was, he thought my father had come back to life and was a man who lived down the hall in the nursing home. He even wanted me to kiss the man goodbye when I was leaving after a church service at the nursing home one Sunday. But I drove 90 miles at least once a month to see him and would never have changed the time I spent with him for anything in the world. He spent 96 years on this earth. God bless all family members who have to see their loved ones like that.

soldout 07/16/09 - 11:06 pm
My mother had it and found

My mother had it and found playing music she loved would stimulate one side of her brain and then she would realize who I was for a few minutes.

corgimom 11/13/09 - 11:08 pm
I cannot imagine letting

I cannot imagine letting someone who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2007 drive a car in 2008. Thank God she didn't kill somebody. Why didn't they take her keys immediately? When my motherinlaw had a stroke and became mentally ill, that's the first thing we did. Many of us will have family members that will have Alzheimer's. As soon as they are diagnosed, do the right thing- the hard thing- and take the car. If someone is ill enough to be diagnosed, they are too impaired to make the multiple decisions that driving requires.

Back to Top
Search Augusta jobs