I have only come in contact with one person battling dementia, while I was patient at the VA Medical Center, and I wrote an article about the situation, which is entitled;
The following article was written by Leslie Linhicum, a staff writer for the Albuquerque Journal, and the article was published in the Albuquerque Journal on March 14, 2012. The title of the article is as follows;
"The Long Farwell"
The sub-title reads;
"Gov. Describes Dad's Battle With Alzheimer's"
"SANTA FE; There was a point in my recent conversation with Governor Susana Martinez, at which she broke down completely, and we took a long pause as a box of tissues was passed around.
Martinez was talking about her father, Jake, a feisty former lightweight boxer and successful businessman who has always taken great pride in the accomplishments of his youngest child.
She had told me how, when she graduated from law school, he took the whole family on a celebratory trip to Hawaii. When she got her first job as a prosecutor, he took her shopping to make sure she had nice suits. He was part of the celebration each time she was elected district attorney in Dona Ana County.
Jake Martinez's youngest daughter is now the first Hispanic woman in the nation to be elected to the office of governor; her popularity ratings are sky high among fellow Republicans and also high among Democrats; and her name is dropped frequently in conversations about even higher office.
And, Jake Martinez...the one man who might be proudest of all that...doesen't know who she is...
Governor Describes The Long Farwell
Alzheimer's, that slow, cruel brain disease that robs people of their past and changes their personalities, has erased Jake Martinez memories of his youngest child, Susana. He still recognizes Lettie, his 54 year old middle daughter, who is developmentally disabled and lives under the guardianship of the governor.
Alzheimer's is sometimes known as 'the long farwell.' It's also the disease of a million heartbrakes. One of Martinez's first ones came while she was the DA in Dona Ana County, before her run for governor. Her mother had died of cancer and Martinez and her brother had divided their family responsibilities. Jake would take care of their father and Susana would take care of their sister.
In late 2006, after Martinez had asked her father to sign some legal papers giving her power of attorney for her sister, her father commented to Martinez's brother, 'She's a really nice lady. She's going to be taking care of Lettie.'
Martinez's voice broke when she told me, "He doesn't know who I am.' And, that's when the tears came. We tend to think of people in public life as one-dimensional. They travel with their staffs and make speeches and policy, and we either like their politics or we don't. But we rarely think of them as fellow travelers on life's journey, as real people with real heartaches.
When I heard that Martinez's father was slipping away to Alzheimer's, I asked if she'd be willing to talk to me about it, because I suspected it might reveal another dimension behind the public persona.
We know Martinez as the governor, but she's also a daughter dealing with the loss of her father while he's still alive. It's a particularly agonizing loss...you say goodbye...bit by bit, and soon you're taking care of an often combative stranger.
And, when you're the governor, Martinez said, you can't very well attend a support group or reach out to others for help. Circumstances require that you walk that road alone. "There are many things you don't share in this position," Martinez said as we sat in her office in Santa Fe.
Martinez recalls her father as the hardworking provider, who was more likely to show his love with a trip to show his love to buy school clothes than with hugs and kisses. He was the product of a hardscrabble cheldhood. His mother died before he turned 1, and his father abandoned the children to be raised by their maternal grandmother in El Paso. He started boxing when he was 16 and showed a gift for the ring. He boxed for the U.S. Marine Corp during the Korean War, then returned home to El Paso to marry Paula Aguirre and start a family.
Martinez was a sheriff's deputy, then a security guard for a clothing manufacturer, and then he started his own security company. All the while he trained as a boxer and competed in the Golden Gloves. He was the three-time Texas champion, and he had a heavy bag and a speed bag in the family's backyard. When Susana and her brother squabbled, their dad would direct them to the backyard, glove them up and suggest they take out their beef in an organized boxing match.
The first signs that something was wrong with the governor's father, came about eight years ago. Jake Martinez, always in a cowboy hat and always meticulous about his clother, started putting on dirty pants and clothes that didn't match. When his brothers visited, he asked who they were.
The eventual diagnosis was Alzheimer's, a disease Martinez's family had lived through once. The governor's maternal grandmother suffered from it for 10 years before she died. 'I've seen the process,' Martinez said. Her father lives in a house in El Paso now with a full time caregiver. He is 79 and fit and strong and his memory can still be perfect. 'He can tell you about the fights he had, blow by blow, Martinez said.
But his connection to the present continues to deteriorate. He has mistaken Lettie, a 54 year old woman, for a boy he thought was trying to steal his money. And a few months ago, he shook Lettie's hand upon saying goodbye instead of hugging her. That was especially confusing for a woman with the cognitive abilities of a 5 year old. 'It was awful,' the governor said.
On election night, November 10, 2010, Jake Martinez was front row center as his daughter gave her acceptance speech and the confetti flew. Martinez said he was confused by the hubbub and didn't understand is was his daughter onstage who had just been elected governor.
She likes to think he might have had a glimmer of recognition at her formal swearing in at midnight in the Capital rotunda on Inauguration Day. Martinez had her back to the audience where her father sat with her brother. So she never saw it, but a photograph captured her father, on his feet as the crowd remained seated placing his cowboy hat on his heart.
Was he just showing respect at an important event? Was it the act of an old veteran honoring the flag? Or did he, for even a few seconds, swell with a father's pride? Martinez hopes he knew, if even for a moment, that it was his daughter being sworn in. And, if he didn't she understands it's only the disease that's responsible.
'It's not personal,' Martinez said as she wiped away the tears. 'I keep telling myself that.'"
END OF ARTICLE;
Life can be precious and beautiful...and at the same time, life can be so ugly and heart-breaking.
This is a piece that appeared on the Letters-to-the Editor page, and was written by Miles Copeland of the Alzheimer's Association New Mexico Chapter; The piece is entitled;
"Governor's Courage Facing Alzheimer's Spotlights Caregivers"
"Thanks to Leslie Linthicum for shining a spotlight on the trials associated with Alzheimer's disease in her 'Long Farewell' article. Her story on Governor Susana Martinez and her family was heart-breakingly enlightening. I appreciate, too, Martinez's continued bravery in discussing this personal journey.
Here in New Mexico, an estivated 38,000 people with Alzheimer's receive unpaid care from more than 100,000 friends and loved ones. The terrible stresses Martinez described are common among those dealing with Alzheimer's in their family. More than 60 percent of family caregivers for people with Alzheimer's disease and other dementia rate their emotional stress from care-giving as high or very high.
In addition, about 33% of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers report symptoms of depression. Some of this emotional strain stems from expectation. As a rule, we expect consistency, in terms of behavior and cognitive ability, from our loved ones. In the case of Alzheimer's, this expectation is no longer reasonable.
The Alzheimer's Association of New Mexico Chapter offers a free educational course called 'Savvy Cargiver,' which is largely successful in freeing people from these expectations, mitigating associated frustrations and sadness. With no cure and the promise of steaily declining cognitive ability, Alzheimer's make considering the future extremely difficutl for loved ones of those with the disease. Savvy Caregiver training imparts participants with a framework for planning for the future using their individual values.
Having planned and considered options, stress concerning the future course of their loved one's disease is further reduced. These Savvy Caregiver trainings also offer practical education on the disease pathology and associated behavious. They teach techniques that make interacting with those who have Alzheimer's more productive and satisfying.
The Alzheimer's Association, New Mexico Chapter also offers. more than 50 support groups statewide. these meetings connect people with others in similar situations. they are able to share resources, recommending doctors, professional caregivers and facilities, when necessary. They also gain emotional support of hearing from others in a similar journey.
To sign up for the Savvy Caregiver class, join a nearby support group or just learn more, contact the Alzheimer's Association at 800-272-3900, or on the Web at www.alz.org/newmexico
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Copyiright; Jerry Aragon; 2012; The Humor Doctor