Dealing with Alzheimer's
The Davis Enterprise
By Sarah Slakey/Enterprise correspondent
||LOVING CARE: Hugh Watson of Woodland visits
his wife Edith, who has Alzheimer's disease,
on Tuesday at St. John's Retirement Village
in Woodland. The couple has participated in
Alzheimer's research projects conducted by the
UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Center. Greg Rihl/Enterprise
WOODLAND - Ten years ago, Hugh Watson noticed that
his wife Edith was changing, and not for the better.
This once-brilliant mind - she was at the top of her
class as an undergraduate, and holds a master's and
Ph.D. in theoretical physics - was having trouble
performing simple day-to-day tasks.
"Several times she said to me, 'If I read a sentence
(in a book) and then go on to the next sentence, I
can't remember what the first sentence said,' "
recalled Watson in a letter to his family physician.
"Much of each day is spent looking for things
which she has misplaced: her glasses, her wallet,
a sweater, shoes. ... Often she forgets what she was
Such is the unfortunate, but all-too-familiar scene
in one out of every 10 families in America who are
living with Alzheimer's disease.
First described by German physician Dr. Alois Alzheimer
in 1906, Alzheimer's disease is a progressive degenerative
disease of the brain that results in dementia. Symptoms
of dementia include abnormal forgetfulness, problems
with reasoning or judgment, loss of language skills
and difficulty performing everyday activities.
If a person shows signs of dementia it does not, however,
necessarily mean that the person has Alzheimer's disease.
Several disorders can cause dementia, including depression,
thyroid complications, sexually transmitted diseases
and lack of blood to the brain. These forms of dementia
are controllable and in most cases treatable. However,
Alzheimer's disease remains untreatable. In most cases,
death is the likely end for a patient with Alzheimer's
disease, eight to 20 years after diagnosis.
Because of the similarity of symptoms between Alzheimer's
disease and other forms of dementia, it is important
that people who have concern about a loved one seek
medical help, doctors say.
"Learning about the disease is a huge challenge.
It is amazing how often people are reluctant to seek
help," said Dawn Myers Purkey, program services
coordinator at the Yolo Adult Day Health Center. "They
may be trying to protect their loved one because of
embarrassing behavior or they are not sure how other
people are going to react.
"People need to seek information early on, to
start understanding the disease right away."
Watson did seek medical help from his family physician,
who in turn sought the opinion of specialists in dementia
and Alzheimer's. Watson said his family doctor did
not believe the initial diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.
It was only after a second diagnosis a year later
did the doctor finally believe.
Watson, however, was not surprised to see the test
"I knew something was wrong. I knew it was probably
Alzheimer's disease," he said. "Looking
back, I now see that she started showing signs of
the disease back in 1988," more than five years
before she was diagnosed.
A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can be a devastating
blow not to only the patient, but to their entire
"The whole family is involved in caring for this
disease," said Purkey, who has been helping families
afflicted with the disease for seven years. "The
disease is very challenging because it changes. Just
as a caregiver may get a handle on a loved one's condition,
the patient changes and the disease progresses to
the next stage. It is continually tail-spinning. It
is very emotionally draining."
The disease is not only emotionally taxing on families,
but also financially. According to the Alzheimer's
Association, more than seven out of 10 Alzheimer's
patients live at home, 75 percent of whom are cared
for by family members or friends. Another 25 percent
have in-home nurses or caregivers, which cost the
family an average of $12,500 a year.
Those who are not cared for in their home go to a
nursing home. The average cost for a nursing home
is $42,000 a year, but has been known to exceed $70,000
per year in some areas of the country. All of these
expenses are almost exclusively paid by family members.
Despite the immense tragedy of the disease, there
is still hope. Organizations such as UC Davis' Alzheimer's
Disease Center give families a through examination
and diagnosis. More importantly, however, the center
gives families information and resources, and allows
them participate in research that may shed light on
this disease that is expected to afflict 14 million
people by 2040.
In addition to being a wealth of information and research,
the Alzheimer's Association organizes support groups
for caregivers in Winters, Woodland and the greater
At the Yolo Adult Day Health Center, attendees can
take advantage of an array of services for both patient
and caregiver. Caregivers can bring their loved ones
here for a few hours a day to catch up on errands
or simply take some much needed rest and relaxation.
Other such local care facilities include Memory House,
2917 Temple Drive in Davis, and St. John's Retirement
Village, 135 Woodland Ave. in Woodland.
Stories similar to the Watson's and additional information
on Alzheimer's disease will be featured in a documentary
presentation tonight on KVIE, Channel 6. A local segment,
titled "Caring & Coping: Living with Alzheimer's,"
airs at 9:30 p.m., following a national documentary
at 8 p.m.
"Caring & Coping" offers information
on local support organizations and features stories
of people in the Central Valley who are fighting Alzheimer's.
Pat McConahay, producer and host of the half-hour
segment, has a special connection to the story. Her
mother has been afflicted with Alzheimer's disease
for more than eight years.
"It was a gift to work on something near and
dear to my heart," McConahay said. "I felt
employed to help the cause, to make people aware,
because so often when dealing with this disease you
feel helpless. There is not much you can do as your
loved one slips away."
The local segment follows a nationwide special titled
"The Forgetting: A Portrait of Alzheimer's".
It is based on David Shenk's best-selling book.
The evening closes with "Facing Alzheimer's:
An African American Perspective," at 10 p.m.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
150 Muir Road (127A)
Martinez, CA 94553-4612
Telephone: (925) 372-2485
Lawrence J. Ellison Ambulatory Care Center
4860 Y Street, Suite 3900
Sacramento, CA 95817
Telephone: (916) 734-5496