By Jennifer Gorski
Diseases that cause dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease, do not discriminate against educated people, uneducated people, world travelers, gardeners, cooks, sports enthusiasts, mothers, brothers - anyone. That is what makes these diseases so devastating. People who have led amazing lives will someday forget their amazing stories and the amazing people they have met along the way. However, other people who they have shared their amazing lives with will have to remember for them.
Barb, now 74 years old, has led an amazing life. Not a
Marilyn Monroe kind of life, but one that is a little more extraordinary
than most. After graduating from high school in the early 1950s, Barb
moved to Oklahoma to attend Oklahoma A&M and joined the Air Force.
While in the Air Force, she was stationed in Paris, France for four years
and traveled abroad to places like Cannes and Morocco.
That was then. Now, Barb has Alzheimer’s disease. She was diagnosed with it in November 2006. Barb still remembers so many details of her amazing life, but when she doesn’t, her sister, Sally Beltz, 76, is by her side to fill in the gaps best she can.
Today, Barb still loves reading about history, is a pet-lover and a vegetarian. She can still recall high profile court cases from her time working at Phillips Lytle as a secretary. Barb explains how her diagnosis has changed her life, “It completely changed my life. I did lose interest in things. For instance, I liked to read about history and biographies. And I did have a hard time getting back into that. I’m doing better, though. And you want to talk about something and of course you forget what you wanted to say. It’s very frustrating.”
Sally offers her view on her sister’s diagnosis. “The most frustrating thing that I have seen with Alzheimer’s is that you want to do something and you can’t. There are a lot of things she would like to do but she’s lost some of her physical skills – sitting down, standing and dressing. She is losing physical skills, but very little mental skills. I mean don’t start a political conversation with her because she will out talk you and out think you.”
Barb and Sally had always lived close by. They lived in a multi-family home for years. Barb lived upstairs, and Sally lived downstairs. In February 2008, Barb made the move into Sally’s downstairs unit. Barb and Sally may have completely different personalities, but they continue to learn and share with one another. Since Barb can no longer do puzzles in the newspaper, Sally has taken that over. Since Barb can no longer drive, Sally drives her where she needs to go. For Sally’s love for her sister, she has also taken on the caregiver role in Barb’s life, too.
One thing that Barb has certainly been blessed with is a supportive family. Barb mentioned, “At the neurologist’s office, they kept saying that I was so lucky to have my family behind me. Some people don’t have anyone.” On the topic of her sister caring for her, Barb threw in, “She’s a remarkable woman.” Of course Sally responded with a laugh and said, “That’s just not true.”
In hopes of learning more about Alzheimer’s disease and what kind of support was out there, Sally contacted the Alzheimer’s Association, Western New York Chapter, after her doctor recommended they give the chapter a call.
The chapter set the two up to go to a support group at Lord of Life in Cheektowaga. The reason they picked that one is because two support groups go on simultaneously. One group is made up of caregivers, and the other is made up of people in the early stages of dementia. Barb and Sally both expressed that they learn a lot at their support groups, and it is extremely helpful to talk with other people who know what they are personally going through.
Sally found out about another chapter support group called Mall Movers, which she knew Barb would love because it included walking. Once a week, a chapter staff member, Lisa Theurer, holds a walking support group for people in the early stages of dementia. The group is held at the Eastern Hills Mall. Sally knew this was a great thing for Barb because Sally can’t take leisurely walks with Barb anymore, due to a medical condition.
Their whole family is truly willing to lend a helping hand. Ellen, Sally’s daughter, has been taking her Aunt Barb to Mall Movers over the summer, since she is a teacher and is off for the summer. One of Sally’s other sisters lives behind the two, and often helps out.
Most of the family is planning on walking for the second year in Memory Walk on September 27 in honor of Barb. Sally, having seven children, is expecting one of her daughters from Pennsylvania to come up to walk with the family. Sally explained that Memory Walk is perfect for the family to participate in because it is a fundraiser for a cause that affects their family, and the family is filled with people who love to walk.
After chatting about the amazing things Barb had done in her lifetime, Sally agreed and said, “Yeah, you don’t think you’ve done anything, but then you sit back and think about it.” Years down the road, it is likely that Sally won’t sit back and admit that anything in her life has been amazing, but it has. If nothing else, she cared for her sister with such love and determination, which ultimately gave her sister a better quality of life while still living with Alzheimer’s disease. Sally will keep with her the stories of her sister’s amazing life that one day her sister will lose forever.
If you would like to participate in Memory Walk 2008 on Saturday, September 27, 2008 in Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Orleans or Genesee Counties, please call the Alzheimer’s Association, WNY Chapter at (716) 626-0600 or visit www.alz.org/wny.
|Barb and Lisa, Family Services Coordinator at the Alzheimer’s Association, walk around Eastern Hills Mall for the Mall Movers support group every week.|