By Alzheimer’s Association Interns: Diana Gomez, Nadia Lieb and Cullen Peele
As interns for The Alzheimer’s Association, we understand the grave reality of a dementia diagnosis and the dark cloud it can cast over a family. Whether it has been through personal experience or a simple insight into the disease’s plague, it’s a common observation that Alzheimer’s is truly the purple elephant in a room no one wants to talk about.
Listening; or in some cases not listening; to our families deal with a disease which affects nearly 65 million people worldwide can be a negative experience. Recently, we spoke to a woman with a thick Georgia accent, classic southern charm and an extraordinarily positive outlook on life. She was a breath of fresh air for us all. Anne is a woman who is not afraid to acknowledge Alzheimer’s with a charging fist.
Anne and Conrad of Amelia Island, Florida have been married for 34 years. They are two of the many faces of Alzheimer’s disease. Anne is a caregiver, wife and advocate of this tragic disease. Anne discusses her and Conrad’s marriage and likens it more to a parent – child relationship. She talks about the emotional toll this experience has had on them.
When Conrad started letting their dog, Lilly outside and forgetting where she was, Anne knew something wasn’t right. Through a series of trials and studies at Emory University over the course of a few years, the couple finally received a diagnosis in 2007. By then, Conrad already experiencing the typical stages of decline, was subsequently prescribed almost all the Alzheimer’s drugs currently available (according to Anne).
Anne: “We participated in every study they [Emory] asked us to participate in, even if he didn’t want to. I would say ‘yes we are’. We are going to help other people, Conrad.’”
Anne, who also plays bridge, decided to organize a tournament this year in honor of The Longest Day – a signature event hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association each June to raise funds and awareness. Teams donate money to further advance Alzheimer’s research and treatment. Like many other caregivers who carry a similar millstone for their loved ones, Anne is very passionate about fighting for a cure.
“He [Conrad] has been dealing with this disease for eight or nine years, and he is doing better than anyone I know,” Anne jovially expressed in her southern drawl.
A Day in The Life of Anne and Conrad
As early risers, Anne and Conrad start their day around 6:00 A.M. The two enjoy coffee together, and she helps him get dressed before the bus comes to take him to the local adult daycare facility for a few hours. Their favorite activities together include running errands – with Conrad watching the dog in the car during each stop – or simply enjoying a (watered down) cocktail together each night.
Anne: “If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot take care of your loved one,” she says, speaking of her own transformation from wife to caregiver. Then, she pauses and offers some words of wisdom, “You’ve got to laugh; you’ve got to get out; you’ve got to see other people; you’ve got to have a life”.
On Saturdays and Sundays, Anne takes a few hours to herself and gets some much-needed
help. Someone comes in to watch Conrad while she shops, has dinner with friends or goes to see a movie. Anne talks about being extremely blessed to have these luxuries, “Some
people don’t have enough money to get the kind of help and support we have,” she says. “I have the ability to utilize adult daycare and provide private help for Conrad – there are so many others who can’t afford to do this.”
Today, Conrad is still unaware of the severity of his condition.
Anne laughed as she reminisced on this past year’s Easter Egg hunt at their church. “Conrad laughed and said to me ‘the best part of memory loss is that I can hide the eggs and find them too,’” she shares. “It’s important to find the humor in things and Conrad always does. If we didn’t laugh, we would cry,” she laments.