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Memory Walk targets Alzheimer’s disease
Some days, when Dick Lundgren visits his wife of 42 years, Dorothee, she recognizes him.
Those are the good days.
But most of the time, Dorothee Lundgren doesn’t quite remember who the handsome, smiling, gray-haired man is.
Still, Dick, 61, continues to visit his wife at her adult family home every other day. And with each passing day, she falls deeper and deeper into the fog of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dorothee, 62, has suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s for more than 14 years.
Most Alzheimer’s cases are diagnosed in patients over age 60, but early-onset Alzheimer’s can be diagnosed in people as young as in their 30s.
No single test can determine whether a person has Alzheimer’s. Doctors use the process of elimination.
The terminal disease causes gradual memory loss and impairment until patients can no longer care for themselves. There is currently no cure.
Dick cared for Dorothee at home until about eight months ago, when her extensive care and continued decline became a stress on his own health and wellness.
“This is one of those things you finally just have to give up. You can’t do it anymore,” he said.
Most recently, Dick fed, clothed and bathed his wife. At times, it was like caring for a baby, he said. It was hard, but Dick never questioned whether he would care for his wife as long as possible.
“I made a commitment to Dorothee,” he said. “If you really and truly love somebody, you’re going to take care of them... You don’t know what you can do until you’re faced with it.”
Late-stage symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include forgetting how to bathe or eat and experiencing problems swallowing. Speech skills are lost and patients communicate by grunting, groaning, babbling or screaming. They lose control of their bladder and bowel movements, lose weight and spend more time sleeping.
Eventually they become bedridden.
Alzheimer’s patients die from various complications resulting from the disease. They quit eating and starve themselves, or body organs shut down when the brain quits telling them to function.
Dick has prepared himself for his wife’s impending death. He plans to prepay for her funeral arrangements this year.
“I’ve said in my heart that I don’t expect her to be here in two years,” he said.
Although Dick is no longer a caregiver for Dorothee, he continues to advocate for Alzheimer’s patients. He will participate in four Memory Walks sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association in Washington State this year. At each walk, he will be a featured speaker.
Dick serves on the Alzheimer’s Association public policy committee. He hopes by speaking at the Memory Walks, he can inspire people to talk to their legislators about the state’s plan to care for Alzheimer’s patients.
In the next 20 years, the number of Alzheimer’s patients is expected to increase by 51 percent as baby boomers age, Lundgren said. He hopes the governor will create a task force to address the increase in patients. Currently, Medicaid doesn’t have the resources to handle long-term care for all the future Alzheimer’s patients.
This will be the first year that Dick will participate in a Memory Walk without Dorothee by his side.
“Taking her places now is just too cumbersome for her and she’d just get exhausted. She’d be in tears,” he said. “It’s kind of a sad feeling this year. It’s something we’ve done for five years.”
The Alzheimer’s Association of Washington offers support groups for caregivers and patients with Alzheimer’s. To learn more or donate, call (800) 848-7097 or visit www.alzwa.org.
To learn more about Dick and Dorothee Lundgren’s battle with Alzheimer’s, visit the couple’s Web site at www.opaandoma.us.
Facts about Alzheimer’s
- People with Alzheimer’s disease die an average of eight years after symptoms appear, but the duration of the disease can vary from three to 20 years.
- There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but some medications may temporarily delay memory decline.
- Alzheimer’s damages and kills nerve cells in the brain that process, store and retrieve information.
- One in 10 people over age 65 have Alzheimer’s. The risk increases with age. Nearly half of people over age 85 have Alzheimer’s.
- Early-onset Alzheimer’s is rare, and can occur in patients as young as their 30s and 40s.
- Nearly five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, more than twice the number in 1980.
- More than 70 percent of Alzheimer’s patients live at home with family and friends providing care.
- Paid care for an Alzheimer’s patient costs an average of $12,500 per year.
Source: Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org.