Daniel J Vance

A couple months ago, I received an email from a reader, George Beres, of Eugene, Oregon, who reads this column in his hometown newspaper, the Pekin (Illinois) Daily Times. Beres’ family history of Alzheimer’s disease has been unique, to say the least.

The Alzheimer’s Association claims this progressive, gradual onset, fatal brain disease affects at least five million Americans. It causes memory, behavior, and thinking difficulties, and is the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death.

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Before retiring, Beres was the sports information director at Northwestern University and later, at the University of Oregon. In a telephone interview, 76-year-old Beres said, “My mother and her four sisters all had Alzheimer’s disease at the time of their deaths. The first sister died in her late 50s and the others at 73, 75, and early 90s. My mother died at age 84 with it.”

In the mid-’90s, Beres’s brother asked him to come back home right away to Pekin. Their mother was living alone and in crisis.

When arriving there, “I walked into the house, and it was intensely hot with temperatures in the upper 90s,” said Beres. “My mother refused to turn on the air conditioning and was showing signs of dehydration. She was mentally unstable and was concerned about finances, even though she didn’t have to be.”

A physician diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s disease, and Beres and his brother made the difficult decision of placing her in a nearby nursing home.

“She resisted going, but went,” said Beres. “Once, some friends visited her there right before she fully lost recognition of people and she said she wanted to go home. It’s one of those things now that when I think back that disturbs me greatly. She was removed from her home, but for us it was for her own safety.” At home, his mother had been forgetting or refusing to take her medication.

Every situation involving a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease is unique. But as for Beres: “I would advise a (caregiver) to resist as long as they can the option of putting the family member into a nursing home.” He suggested using home nursing care as long as possible to keep the person with Alzheimer’s disease in familiar surroundings.

He added, “The caregiver must be careful because they can suffer, too. You must guard against the caregiver coming down with psychological problems due to the stress.”

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