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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Alzheimer’s Diary: As one-year anniversary approaches, lessons learned prove invaluable

(This is part of an ongoing diary as Ginger Sanders shares the emotional journey she is taking with her husband, John, as they discover his onset of Alzheimer’s. Over 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease; one in eight older Americans has it. Ginger and John Sanders did not expect to be among those statistics. Ginger’s touching story puts a real face and real name on the statistics and – she hopes – will help all of us understand what so many of our fellow Americans, loved ones and neighbors are going through.)
 

By Ginger Sanders
KyForward columnist
 

(Photo provided)

We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of John’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. While it seems like just yesterday when we learned of John’s condition, it also seems like five years. Our entire life changed in a blink of an eye or diagnosis. John’s diagnosis also precipitated his retirement; a retirement that wasn’t to happen for a few years. Our lives, like others, have experienced heartaches and happiness. Then out of the blue “BAM,” life hits you really hard. The BAM is called Alzheimer’s.
 

When you first hear the awful Alzheimer’s diagnosis, you immediately experience the fight-or-flight response. However, there is another response that no one discusses. It is the “ostrich reaction” where you just want to stick your head in the sand and hope everything will be as it was when you pull your head out. I probably would still be there if I didn’t need to breathe. After a few weeks, you accept the diagnosis and then fight!
 

For those who have been kind enough to read my journal on our progress and regress, you know this year has been wrought with fears, laughter, tears, anxiety, worry, blessings, joy and heartache. It is not just the complexity of dealing with such a frightening disease but the reality that your income has been cut in half, fear that John’s brain health is deteriorating and its consequences, concern whether I can sustain my own business work load, apprehension in juggling our clinical trial schedule and travel, worry that we are in the right clinical trial (what if we are wasting our time when another might be better), trepidation that we are not paying enough attention to our children and grandchildren … the list goes on and on. So goes life for everyone.
 

For every negative, there is a positive. We have learned to appreciate each other more. We cherish the love we have for one another. I have learned to be more patient (most of the time). I have learned that I can shoulder more responsibility. I appreciate the new role John has assumed willingly. He is responsible for all household and farm duties (not cooking or paying bills). He does an amazing job; much better than I ever did. We are a partnership just like we have always been.
 

I am trying to stop saying “Don’t you remember?” when John asks me about someone or something he should know. When John asks me the same question over and over (like when are we leaving for our next clinical trial appointment), I have learned to just answer him. It is hard but I am slowly adapting. We make jokes out of his Alzheimer’s. I tell him that at some point it will be like having sex for the first time with me. We laugh and hold on just little longer.
 

I push John to interact more, which is difficult since he has always been a bit introverted. However, when he interacts with people, he does so much better in remembering words. I can always tell when it has been too long since he has been with someone other than me; he struggles with his words. Our family has been great in spending time with John. They will take him out for lunch or just hang out, come to the farm and visit, help him with farm chores, or just call and talk to him. When I get worried about John, I call my daughter who listens and helps me through it, although I hate doing that to her since it makes her worry more about us.
 

The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” also pertains to Alzheimer’s victims and their families. We are so blessed (I am sure God has us in his hands) to have the support group we have surrounding us.
 

So what have we learned from this past year? Not to take anything for granted, cherish your loved ones, give yourself up to God’s benevolence, believe you can endure almost anything, have hope, laugh whenever you can, be silly more often, love another, cry whenever you need to, fight the Alzheimer’s battle, don’t sweat the small stuff, do at least one kindness a day (preferably anonymously), kiss and hug, live life as if you don’t have the next day. When I get down and complain that life isn’t fair, my John reminds me “Fair is where you show your pigs.” He is so right.
 

Here’s to another year of hope and cherishing each other.
 

Although Ginger is a vice president of sales for a renowned antimicrobial company (SAS Global Inc.), her main objective is to stymie the onslaught of Alzheimer’s on her husband, John. Ginger lives with her husband and three dogs on their farm in Lawrenceburg. A dedicated family person, she and her husband have 11 grandsons. Ginger Sanders is a transplant from South Carolina and a product of the University of South Carolina where she majored in the English Literature. She has taken on the fight of Alzheimer’s to win and help others as they struggle through the quagmire of this disease. She can be contacted at ginwsanders@gmail.com.
 

Read more of Ginger’s diary entries

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