The disease is frightening. Its victims are mothers, fathers, spouses and grandparents who do not recognize the faces of those who have loved them for most of their lives. The disease is Alzheimer’s.
This week as many gather around the dinner table to give thanks for the blessings in their lives, there will be many residents in Bonner County expressing gratitude for the help of a nonprofit organization called DayBreak Center.
DayBreak opened in August 2008 and is an adult-day care center for people who suffer from dementia.
“Being a caregiver is a form of torture were it not for the love that has long prevailed,” said Paul, who is a caregiver of a current DayBreak client. “The long journey into the night is one of those painful experiences from which there is no escape. Understanding the experience is one of the things that can help ease the pain and make the trip more bearable.”
And helping caregivers and clients understand the journey is just one of the many services that DayBreak provides.
In addition to providing respite, staff at the center lead the clients in research-based therapeutic activities that help stimulate their memory, give the clients a chance to socialize, exercise and provide resources for the clients’ families.
According to DayBreak program coordinator Nancy Wood, a registered nurse with a bachelor of science degree, all clients are in the mid- to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s.
“The load (of caring for an Alzheimer patient) can never be lifted from those who care,” said Paul. “It is one of those burdens life brings that can’t be shared. There is simply no escape. And that is where respite comes into play.”
According to information gathered in a study conducted in early 2008 prior to opening DayBreak, there are approximately 400 known cases of Alzheimer’s in Bonner County. But according to information provided in DayBreak’s Business Plan, information from the Inland Northwest Alzheimer’s Association estimates that the number of those suffering from Alzheimer’s is in all probability closer to 900 – and that number is likely to increase significantly over the next several years.
Wood said it is estimated that by 2015, 20.9 percent of Bonner County’s population will be 65 or over.
November is National Alzheimer’s Month, and the staff at DayBreak is eager to share information on not only the disease but the resources available for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
Wood said there are more than 60 forms of dementia – one of which is Alzheimer’s – and more than 5 million Americans will be affected by Alzheimer’s alone this year.
Initially caregivers feel some guilt about dropping off their loved one, said Wood, but that guilt dissipates when the caregiver sees that their friend or relative enjoys DayBreak.
“It gives them (the caregiver) the energy to get through the rest of the day,” said Wood, who emphasizes that many caregivers rarely get a good night sleep since Alzheimer’s patients are prone to wandering.
One misconception is that Alzheimer’s is a disease which affects only memory, but the truth is that the disease is fatal. Wood said that as the disease increases there is nerve cell death in the brain. This leads to an Alzheimer patient losing basic physical functions such as walking and swallowing.
“Deaths attributed to Alzheimer have increased over 47 percent from 2000 to 2006, compared with decreases of 11 percent due to heart disease,” said Wood who adds that more than 70 percent of people with Alzheimer’s live at home.
Carol has cared for her husband for several years and has found DayBreak a welcome relief not just for her but also her husband.
“DayBreak makes it possible for me to take a much needed break from care giving and my husband enjoys being there.”