SUPPORT FOR OLDER ADULTS WITH MEMORY LOSS AND THEIR FAMILIES

Living with the Unforeseen

Bob and Gail were looking forward to the next chapter of their lives. They were still young and their three daughters had finally finished college and were on their way to becoming financially independent. After dedicating so much time to raising a family, they looked forward to coming together as a couple and having an opportunity to relax, travel and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

It was late summer 2013 when Bob noticed a distinct change in Gail. She began bringing work home, she struggled to multitask and she showed less emotion and zest for life. Her once vibrant personality was seemingly flattened. There were times that Bob found her staring blankly at the computer screen. Gail’s primary care physician wasn’t concerned and reassured them that the changes were probably connected to menopause. But Bob was uneasy; he felt it was something else. Time passed and Gail’s symptoms worsened. Unable to concentrate, she had to leave her job in the non-pro t education sector. Bob listened to his instincts and took Gail to see a neurologist.

At age 54, Gail was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. How could a disease associated with adults in their 70’s and 80’s and genetically unknown in her family happen to them? How would they tell their friends and family? From this point forward, their lives would be irrevocably changed.

Bob regrets that it took so long for Gail to be diagnosed. Unfortunately, this is often the case with early-onset Alzheimer’s. It’s not a disease we associate with younger adults.

A doctor at UCLA’s Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care program referred Bob to OPICA. Fortunately, Gail was very open to getting help. Understandably, many adults faced with a diagnosis of dementia aren’t as accepting, especially at the onset. Gail joined OPICA’s Brain Train, a weekly, four-hour program specifically designed for people in the early stages of dementia. While a reluctant art student, Gail loved the current events discussions and connecting with other people. The typical Brain Train participant is at least a generation, if not more, ahead of Gail, but she didn’t see the age difference as a problem. She was just happy for the opportunity to be in such an enriching, supportive environment.

As the disease progressed, Gail transitioned to OPICA’s Adult Day Program. Bob had to scale back his work hours and, in preparation for the financial burden they would soon be facing, they sold their home of over 30 years and purchased a condominium nearly one-third its size. When asked if he would have moved if Gail wasn’t sick, he readily says “No.” Without anger, he followed with, “I’m just grateful that Gail handled the move so well. When she sees the paintings from OPICA’s Art Show [a group painting that she and her Brain Train friends created together] hanging in our new home, it makes her happy.”

When asked how he’s holding up, Bob confessed, “I feel love-starved. Conversation with Gail was such a big part of our love and now it’s just lonely.” While their daughters and friends are there for him and supportive in so many ways, on a day to day basis, he’s on his own.

“This is a devastating disease. It changed everything forever for her, me and our entire family. OPICA has softened the change, offering comfort and enrichment.”

 

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