Alzheimer#039;s patients need qualified sitters to provide care

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 23, 2000

There has been a lot of discussion around town this week about

caring for patients with Alzheimer's Disease. Dealing with family members who have the disease can not only be a heartbreaking experience, but can also put a heavy strain on family relations and finances.

My own grandfather died from Alzheimer's about five years ago, and while I was not a primary care giver to him, I did have several experiences with him that helped me understand how hard it must be to have someone in that condition depend on you.

After I returned to Alabama from a brief residence in California, I saw my grandfather, affectionately named Babaw, for the first time in almost two years. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's while I was gone and had begun to gradually slip into the early stages of dementia associated with the disease. My family had become used to his condition, but I was in for a shock.

My grandmother sent us to the drug store to get us out of the house for a while, and gave me three prescription bottles to have refilled. She had been caring for Babaw for many months and needed every opportunity to be alone. While I was helping Babaw into his jacket, I put the bottles in his pocket, zipped the pocket closed, and told him "don't lose those bottles, now, we need them to get your medicine."

I helped him into the car. He kept insisting on driving, but the family had requested the Department of Public Safety cancel his driver's license for his own safety. I buckled him into the passenger seat and asked if he was comfortable.

"Where are we going?" he asked me. "To the drug store to get your medicine." I explained.

As we drove into town, Babaw would spot landmarks he remembered from his youth. He pointed out the bank he had been a loan officer in years before, he pointed out the nursing home where his mother died, and he entertained me with stories, although a bit confused, from when his grandchildren were young. I began, at that moment, to realize that although he knew he had grandchildren, he did not realize I was one of them.

"Where are we going?" he asked me again. "To the drug store," I said. "We have to get your prescriptions filled."

"Have you got the bottles?" he asked. Ten minutes earlier I had put them in his pocket, but he didn't remember. I choked back a tear and answered simply "yes sir."

When we pulled up in front of the family drug store he had been going to since before I was born it was just about dark. He peered nervously at the fluorescent sign staring down at us, and for an instant he seemed to know where he was. An instant later, a wrinkle of confusion appeared on his forehead and he slumped back in his seat.

"Are you ready to go?" I asked as I reached over to unbuckle his seat belt. "Yeah," he said. "Let's go."

I walked around the car and saw him staring at the sign again with the child-like confused look he would get, and

I wondered what he was thinking. I opened the passenger door and startled him when I reached out my hand.

"Let's go!" I said trying to show a little enthusiasm.

He looked up at me with the same wrinkle of confusion on his forehead and asked "Where are we going?"

A class is being offered in Dothan sponsored by he Alabama Dementia Education and Training Program and the Southeast Alabama Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association for people who are interested in becoming sitters for Alzheimer's patients. Those who complete the six-hour course will have the opportunity to be listed on a statewide sitter list. Experienced sitters are desperately needed.

Caring for someone with this disease requires an understanding of the basics of the disease, and this program is designed to help provide that knowledge. I encourage anyone around town who needs to, or is interested in providing care for an Alzheimer's patient to attend this important program.

For more information about the Sitter Education program, class times and location, call the Alzheimer's Association at 1-888-367-4360.