By MeLinda Schnyder
JoAnn Laughlin started writing down what she considered changes in the behavior of her husband, Warren. Repeating statements, not remembering where things are, needing help with basic life functions like choosing what to wear in the morning – and often accompanied by anxiety or anger.
She said she took her notes to their family physician who referred her Air Force veteran husband to see a specialist at the VA, where the Laughlins received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
That was eight years ago. Three years ago JoAnn, now 77, quit her job as Warren, 83, began needing near constant care. “You’re with them 24 hours a day but some days it feels like 36 hours,” JoAnn said. “It’s tremendous stress and it’s a long, lonely journey.”
That journey has been helped, she said, by support from the Central and Western Kansas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. JoAnn leans on the knowledge of the chapter’s staff and takes advantage of services they offer. She reads books about the disease from the library in the Wichita office, she attends monthly support group meetings organized by the chapter and receives grants from the nonprofit for a couple of days of daycare for Warren each month that they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.
“Daycare gives me a little time to run errands by myself and Warren gets to spend a few hours with a small group where they have lunch and do activities like play bingo, sing, spend time outside or just talk,” she said. “We aren’t able to get out of the house and do things as much as we used to, and he loves to be around people.”
Warren is one of 52,000 Kansans and 5 million Americans 65 and older who the Alzheimer’s Association estimates are living with the irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Health Awareness Month, during which the Alzheimer’s Association asks the public to get involved and raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
“Everyone who has a brain is at risk to develop Alzheimer’s, a disease that is often misunderstood,” said Fe Vorderlandwehr, executive director of the local chapter. “Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the fifth leading cause of death for those aged 65 and older. Tragically, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s yet. The Alzheimer’s Association of Central and Western Kansas and our national organization, however, have been working to help people with Alzheimer’s and their families to not only find a cure, but to help them through the process of dealing with this devastating disease.”
The Central and Western Kansas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association serves 68 counties and has a staff of eight full-time and one part-time employees, a volunteer advisory board of directors and many more volunteers for events, support groups and advocacy efforts. They kicked off Alzheimer’s and Brain Health Awareness Month with an open house and block party on June 1, at their office, 1820 E. Douglas. The family-friendly, free event featured activities, live entertainment and food.
Another event during the month is the 11th Annual Reilly County Memorial Golf Tournament on Friday, June 23, at Derby’s Hidden Lakes Golf Course. Proceeds help fund respite care to families and caregivers of those living with Alzheimer’s.
In addition to attending events, you can support Alzheimer’s and Brain Health Awareness Month by visiting alz.org/abam to share your story, learn more about the disease or donate. They also encourage you to go purple — the color of Alzheimer’s awareness — on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets for the month.
“It’s a great foundation and I’m always happy to see the people who support them,” JoAnn said. “It’s a wonderful place to get support and they are doing research, trying to find answers. It’s affecting everyone and it’s scary. For those of us living with it, it’s a long, lonely journey and we need organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association.”
By MeLinda Schnyder