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60PLUS feature Story by Carol Crissey Nigrelli • Photo by Bill Sitzmann Jean Jetter, center, with parents Thomas and Margaret Ludwick From Patients to Caregivers M Alzheimer’s Terrible Toll argaret Ludwick spends her days sitting in a wheel- chair at a senior care center in Elkhorn. She never speaks. The only expressive motion involves her hands—she constantly puts her long, tapered fingers together like a church steeple. Her big blue eyes stare straight ahead but focus on nothing. No one can reach her anymore, not her daughters, not her husband. Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia in adults 65 and over, robs even the most intelligent people of their brain and eventually destroys their body. There is no cure. There is no pill to prevent it. There’s S6  60PLUS  march/april  •  2013 not even a test to definitively diagnose it. Effective treatments have proven as elusive as the disease, itself. “We do have medications that may help with symptoms in some patients, especially in the early stages of Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Daniel Murman, a specialist in geriatric neurology at the Nebraska Medical Center. “But they don’t truly slow down the disease process.” According to researchers, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s will triple in the next 40 years, which means 13.8 million will have the disease by 2050 (Chicago Health and Aging Project research as reported by Awareness of symptoms is crucial for early intervention. “Memory loss and changes in behavior are not a normal part of aging,” stresses Deborah Conley, a clinical nurse specialist in gerontology at Methodist Health Systems who teaches other nurses and caregivers about Alzheimer’s. “I would urge family members to take [their loved one] to a family physician first, seek as much information as possible, and start making your plans.” An assessment that includes the person’s medical history, brain imaging, and a neurological exam can result in a diagnosis that’s about 85 percent accurate for Alzheimer’s. Margaret, a registered nurse, who worked at Immanuel Hospital for years, never received an extensive workup. “I first noticed something was wrong about 15 years ago, when Mom was 70,” explained Margaret’s daughter, Jean Jetter of Omaha. “It was the day I moved into my new house. Mom put things in odd places, like a box labeled ‘kitchen’ would wind up in the bedroom. And she stood smack in the middle of the doorway as the movers tried to carry large pieces of furniture inside, and she just stared at them.” As Margaret’s behavior grew worse, Jean begged her father, Thomas, to get her mother help. “He didn’t want to hear it. He kept saying, ‘This will get better.’ He had medical and financial Power of Attorney. Dad worked full time, and she was home alone. This went on for eight years.” Margaret’s steady decline rendered her unable to fix a meal or even peel a banana. She lost control of bodily functions. After she was found wandering the neighborhood on several occasions, Jean was finally able to call Adult Protective Services and get her mother into an adult daycare program. After breaking a hip two years ago, Margaret arrived at the Life Care Center of Elkhorn. “This is such a sad, but not unfamiliar case,” said Deborah Conley, who began working with Alzheimer’s patients in the mid ’70s. “Even in 2013, people do not know what to do, where to turn.” Added Dr. Murman, “There is still a stigma attached to Alzheimer’s. People don’t like to hear the ‘A’ word. But it’s much better to be open and specific about it.”

March/April 2013 Omaha Magazine

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