“It’s like watching a tree grow; nothing from day to day, but season to season and year to year,” reflects Randy Stone, Augusta. “Jean didn’t develop this over night. It was very gradual.”
Randy never imagined his life would lead him down this road, but it’s a journey he is learning to manage. A journey that more than 15 million Americans are also dealing with — taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
Jean is Randy’s beloved wife who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease five years ago at the age of 70. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Today, more than 5.4 million people have Alzheimer’s, and someone develops the disease every 68 seconds.
“Before she was diagnosed, she would ask the same questions over and over again. We’d see people at church that we’ve known for a couple of years and she wouldn’t know who they were,” said Randy.
Randy used to work as an individual consultant, but stopped working in 2009 when it was no longer safe for Jean to be left alone, and he became her full-time caregiver. Like for many people, the task of caregiving was completely foreign to Randy. He had many questions regarding daily care, best practices and adult day services.
Randy reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association by calling its 24/7 helpline (800-272-3900) to find answers to his questions and learn about community resources.
Randy is appreciative for the additional support he receives from the adult day service, but even more so for the help he receives from his neighbor, Mary Beth Gaffney. Mary Beth moved in “next door” (a mile down the road) about three years ago. It didn’t take long for Mary Beth to learn about Jean’s Alzheimer’s disease.
“I had come with my daughter to ask the Stones if we could feed their horses,” Mary Beth said, “and we both instantly knew something wasn’t right.”
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and the only cause of death among the top 10 with no way to prevent it, cure it or slow its progression.
“Mary Beth has been very supportive of Jean,” said Randy.
Randy’s grateful to have Mary Beth — she’s not only a good neighbor, but also someone he knows he can count on to support him with Jean’s caregiving needs. That’s not it though; Mary Beth has taken supporting her neighbors to the next level.
Three weeks after Mary Beth met Jean, she came across information in her church bulletin about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and went to Randy with the idea of starting a Walk team.
The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.
“She came to me and told me that she wanted to name it ‘The Jean Team’ in honor of Jean,” said Randy.
Since then, Mary Beth has poured her heart into helping raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association. She works alongside Randy to raise funds for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Washington. Randy sent a “shout-out message” via email to encourage members of his church and family to raise awareness and funds.
“We both campaigned using tools on the Alzheimer’s Association website,” said Mary Beth.
The Alzheimer’s Association 2012 Washington Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be held Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Washington City Pavilion. The event joins friends, family and co-workers to unite as an unstoppable force to reclaim the future for millions.
“The Jean Team” was the second top fundraising team at the 2011 Washington Walk to End Alzheimer’s, raising $3,455 to support programs and services for local families and advance research toward treatments and, hopefully, a cure. This will be the team’s third year participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
The weather during last year’s Walk was less than ideal with drizzling rain, but it didn’t matter to those who attended.
“Everyone knew why they were there. The rain didn’t affect the mood; nobody cared. There could’ve been birds chirping for how tremendously upbeat it was,” said Randy. “It (the Walk) is kind of a party.”
“I love being there and seeing all the people. They’re there to support and have passion that someday there will be a cure for Alzheimer’s,” said Mary Beth. “The Walk alone was support. There’s hope.”
If you would like to donate to “The Jean Team” or start your own team, visit www.alz.org/stl or call 800.272.3900.