After Alzheimer’s diagnosis, married caregivers live in commitment ‘in sickness and in health’

As Alzheimer’s disease increases in Florida, more and more family members face the slow and painful challenge of providing care.

Here’s how some Floridians in this situation are staying true to their commitment “in sickness and in health.”

Married for 55 years

For husbands and wives in Florida, Alzheimer’s disease is putting their vows to the test. Can they do the hard stuff?

For some, like 76-year-old Villages resident Dale Fink, the answer is yes.

“It’s for better or for worse, and this is definitely as bad as I can imagine,” Fink said in an interview at his home. “But I never doubted for a minute that I wouldn’t do all that I could do.”

Fink’s wife, Kathy, was diagnosed in 2018. That summer, when she rapidly declined and began to fall, he placed her in a memory care facility.

Fink said it was his toughest moment yet.

His wife is a retired nurse with a big heart and an open personality. She was “the rock of the family,” Fink said. “And she…was the love of my life, always has been.”

The couple has been married for 55 years. They lived in Vermont and raised two daughters.

Fink said both of Kathy’s parents had dementia and he saw the early signs long before his wife was diagnosed. There were times when she didn’t know who he was.

Fink said it was a slow transition until he suddenly realized he was making all the decisions. Gradually, he became her full-time caregiver. He had to choose her clothes. Then he had to put it on.

“Then it got to where you had to, you know, track her going to the bathroom,” he said. “Then she became incontinent.”

Old Cathy sometimes comes out with a humorous one-liner, Fink said. “And then out of the blue sometimes when we’re visiting, she just looks up and says, ‘I love you.’ That’s the big hits right now.”

Fink reflects on the growing impact of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Being in a retirement community, especially here, there’s hardly a person you talk to who doesn’t have someone in the family or a friend or someone who has been affected by this disease.”

From one “P” to another “P”

Sarah McLeod works as a mental health provider for people living with Alzheimer’s. In an online interview, she said one of her main jobs is helping clients learn to do the hard things.

The damage to spouses and partners can be severe – financial, physical, social and emotional. There is depression, anxiety, loneliness, grief and loss of intimacy.

Marital relations shift beneath them. McLeod said one husband explained it this way: “[T]here is a transformation from one ‘P’ to another ‘P’. And what he means is that his role has changed from being a partner to being more of a parent.

McLeod said a caregiver needs the support of someone they trust, “someone you feel safe with, who you can tell ugly things, difficult things, uncomfortable, embarrassing things, and they’re not going to go anywhere. “

Support groups help, as does understanding the disease and how it progresses. One resource, the Alzheimer’s Association, has information and links for caregivers of people with the disease.

“Good life” helping others

At Claremont, David Sims brings her experience as a nurse, keeping up with the latest research and cutting-edge treatments while caring for husband Ed Patterson.

Sims said Patterson, who is 75, was diagnosed with early-stage dementia with a high burden of amyloid plaque that can progress to Alzheimer’s disease.

“We’re doing everything we can to slow the progression,” Sims said. “And that’s why it’s so important to have early detection.”

Patterson was part of the Alzheimer’s Association Advisory Group. Other residents of their gated community come to them for advice when they receive a diagnosis.

They fear life won’t be good, but Patterson says he and his husband have a different focus.

“And I think that’s where David and I took our lives, focusing on what we could do to have a good life and help others,” Patterson said.

Sims said their roles have changed – now he pays the bills and drives – but he’s actually doing what he’s always done, taking care of his partner.

Copyright 2022 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

David Sims, left, a nurse who works at the Orange County Jail, is committed to supporting her husband, Ed Patterson, as he deals with early-stage dementia. Photo: Joe Burns, WMFE News

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