Alzheimer’s Walk slated for Sept. 15 in New RichmondThere are many trials and tribulations connected with Alzheimer’s disease. One Somerset family can relate to the tough, long journey of watching a loved one cope with Alzheimer’s.
There are many trials and tribulations connected with Alzheimer’s disease. One Somerset family can relate to the tough, long journey of watching a loved one cope with Alzheimer’s.
It’s their willingness to share their story that got the father-daughter team of Chuck Bjorklund and Vikki Jameson nominated as this year’s honorary co-chairs of the local “Walk to End Alzheimer’s,” which is scheduled for Sept. 15 in New Richmond.
Bjorklund’s wife, Blanche, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease almost 20 years ago. The family saw some signs of memory loss with Blanche when she was around 65 years old. One of the first telltale signs was the short term memory loss. She would ask the same questions over and over again.
She became argumentative, which was opposite of her character. Gradually Blanche’s problem solving abilities started to deteriorate. Friends would call the family and report seeing Blanche cross County Road C to get the mail and not look out for traffic. A lot of people were worried for her safety and judgment. Chuck strove very hard to keep her at home for more than 10 years. He became the main caregiver at cooking and household duties. He said he played many roles of cook, nurse and entertainer. Chuck did not take his wife out much because it was too much stimulation. Chuck emphasized that “staying home was safe.” Any new situation was difficult and the family had to repeat and explain what they were doing. The repeated questions were emotionally exhausting to the family.
In 1999, Blanche was sitting in her chair in the living room and looked at Chuck and asked, “Where is Chuck?” She increasingly was afraid of this “man in her house” (Who was her husband, Chuck). Vikki could see the stress level increasing for her dad. The burden of keeping watch over Blanche every minute of the day was affecting his health, too. The family stepped in and started to encourage their dad to think about putting their mom into a nursing home facility.
In 2002, the family understood that they were slowly losing Blanche to this terrible disease. It got to a point where they could not deal with the physical demands of Alzheimer’s. Blanche moved into the Memory Unit of The Deerfield. While at The Deerfield, she continued to lose her short-term memory. Vikki shared that she had to be who her mom thought she was on any given day; “sister, aunt or her mother.”
“It was easier to pretend to be whoever she thought I was than to try to explain,” she said.
Chuck found it very sad and difficult when Blanche no longer knew him.
Blanche would pace around and look for her parents and her siblings who had been deceased for many years. The family learned not put Blanche through the trauma of telling her that her parents had been dead for more than 50 years. They would do some therapeutic fibbing and tell Blanche that her parents would be here next week or were out getting groceries.
Vikki expressed that a person with Alzheimer’s “does not know they are wrong. They think they are right and so let them be right.”
Vikki learned to take this disease day by day. Her saddest moment was at The Deerfield when she went to visit her mom and her mom cried, “I miss my momma!” All Vikki could do was hold her while she cried.
Vikki found that her mom was thinking she was only 12 years old and wanted to be home with her momma.
Alzheimer’s was a puzzling disease for the family to understand. Blanche would forget who her husband was but would never forget that her family took her car away. It was fascinating that she would remember the oddest things but the most common things she would forget.
About eight years before her death, Blanche was moved to the St. Croix Health Center for financial reasons. Her walking ability declined but her body continued to stay healthy. She was on few medications and was never physically ill. As the disease progressed, she became content and happy.
The staff at the health center would find ways to make her laugh and found her playful side. This was a new side to Blanche that her family did not see much in her past. She was a more reserved and conservative woman before Alzheimer’s. The family was at peace knowing that Blanche was being cared for by great professionals.
“You learn to live with the disease and find a sense of peace when your loved one is at a care center. You can visit and enjoy your time with them without worrying about the physical cares.”
Vikki and Chuck have some great advice for other caregivers. When you first notice the disease, start having family discussions and help others understand the stages of the disease. Don’t argue with your loved one. “Let him or her be at the age they think they are in. Likewise, find resources in your community to help your loved one be as independent as possible. Being there for them is comfort. Showing them you care and loving them is the only reward. These gifts will give you the courage to handle this horrible disease.
The “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 15, and is a fundraiser to support the families and individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, said Jackie Waalen, resident services director at The Deerfield.
For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and the “Walk to End Alzheimer’s,” contact the Julene Bowe, from the Greater Wisconsin Chapter, or Waalen at 715-243-3900.