Annette Rucker isn’t shy about admitting her trepidation about coping with the Alzheimer’s diagnosis her mother, Alma, received 15 years ago.
“I knew I was not going to be able to handle this very well,” said the IT professional. “I’m going to need support. I need it for me.”
Annette had seen the decline in her mother’s cognition over the years, but didn’t fully appreciate the gravity of the situation. Her mother would continually repeat questions, and the situation got worse over time.
“We finally said: ‘this isn’t funny anymore,’ and had doctors perform tests that showed she had Alzheimer’s,” Annette said.
A Different Mom
After 15 years, the ravages of Alzheimer’s are undeniable. Alma is wheelchair-bound and doesn’t communicate in a way most people would comprehend.
“She’s still my mom, but she’s a different mom,” Annette reflected. “It’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around this disease where you go from thriving to all the way in the opposite direction.”
“Miss Alma,” as Annette lovingly calls her mother, isn’t the only one who’s changed. Her daughters have each adjusted as the disease has progressed. Annette’s sisters each take their own approach to their mother’s Alzheimer’s. One spends time with Alma every evening. The other can’t bear the thought of seeing her mother essentially incapacitated.
For Annette, as difficult as it is to see the changes in her mother over the years, there is no choice to be made.
“One day, she just quit walking. Then she stopped feeding herself,” said Annette. “But she’s my mom. I have to see her.”
Mother and daughter have settled into a routine based around mealtime, which Annette finds is the most rewarding because it’s a bonding moment. “She doesn’t talk anymore and doesn’t know me, but she’s still alive and I get to see her. I get to connect with her by feeding her. It’s really more for me.”
Sharing her experiences
While the past 15 years as a caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s has had its share of challenges, Annette has chosen to share the wisdom she’s gained. She serves as a volunteer for the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association at health fairs, the annual Denver Black Arts Festival and, of course, at the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which has become a “must do” event for her.
And she continues to expand her knowledge base with the variety of educational programs offered through the Colorado Chapter. Since her introduction to the Association more than 10 years ago through a free, introductory program at the senior housing where her mother was living, Annette has participated in support groups and other programs ever since.
“They (the Colorado Chapter) have resources you’d never know about on your own,” Annette said. “I learned about resources for those who want to keep their parents at home, memory care facilities and more. You need information to decide what works best for you and your family.”
But it was the caregiver support groups that resonated the most with Annette. That’s where she was able to connect with people in the same situation as her – and some who had already lived through extremely challenging times.
“People in support groups get it,” she said. “You really don’t have a clue (about the effects of Alzheimer’s) unless you’re going through it with someone. We can sit and laugh – and cry – about things. They understand.”
Annette’s advice isn’t surprising: find a support group, and take advantage of resources offered through your church.
“You may think you do, but you don’t really know what you’re getting into (with Alzheimer’s),” said Annette. “For the longest time, it was difficult for me to cope. People at work could tell by my face that I had been to see my mom. Now, I’m at the point where I can leave her after a visit and still be a happy person. Now, I’m just glad she’s still alive. There’s no cure, but they’re working on it. And I get to see my mom.”