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A family's journey through Alzheimer's

By BY ANGELI WRIGHT
April 14, 2011 at midnight
Updated April 16, 2011 at 11:17 p.m.

Dorothy Martin sleeps in a chair in her house on Nov. 18. In the late stages of Alzheimer's disease, patients have difficulty responding to their environment and often spend more time sleeping.

WHAT IS ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE?

Alzheimer's disease is a fatal disease that does not yet have a cure.

It is the sixth leading cause of death in America.

An estimated 5.4 million people are living with Alzheimer's in the United States.

In 2010, 340,000 Texas residents 65 and older suffered from Alzheimer's.

Source: The Alzheimer's Association (alz.org)



Dorothy's six-year journey came to an end in March. She died on March 16 of complications from a surgical procedure she had in February after falling and breaking her hip. Family surrounded her bedside at her home as she took her final breath.

"She was smiling until the last minute," Joyce said. "She was giving us kisses and smiling."

It started small. A misplaced sentence. A forgotten ingredient in a famous snicker- doodle cookie.

These memory lapses were shrugged off. However, the dropped thoughts soon became an inability to speak full sentences and a need for constant care.

This was 83-year-old Dorothy Martin's journey into a battle with Alzheimer's, a fatal disease. Her family went on the frightening and frustrating journey, too.

They agreed to share their story with the Advocate to further the community's understanding of Alzheimer's.

"Every time she kind of has a decline, you have to grieve all over again," Dorothy's daughter and primary caregiver, Joyce Martin, 50, said. "I call it taking one step deeper into the fog."

Dorothy was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2005 after a routine traffic stop in which she could not remember where her car insurance card was.

"It was always in the glove compartment," Dorothy's husband, Owen Martin, 86, said. "But she didn't know."

Married for 62 years, Owen cared for his wife on his own until August, when he accepted that he could no longer do it alone.

".He kind of had a breaking point," Joyce recalled. "It's hard to see 'the rock' break down. So I realized that it was probably way beyond bad if he was saying something because he doesn't do that."

Joyce, one of Owen and Dorothy's seven children, relocated from California to her childhood home to help care for her mother.

"We had to do that role reversal thing where I became the parent, kind of, because I have to tell her what to do," she said. "She's like my child, I have to watch her and take care of everything."

While Owen dutifully feeds his wife dinner every evening at 6 sharp and crushes medication into an afternoon yogurt snack, Joyce takes care of most other duties such as grooming, dressing and trips to the bathroom.

"It's almost like a roller-coaster," the dedicated daughter said. "You know, good days and bad days. It just gets to there's fewer good days and more bad days."

While trying to practice patience with her mother, Joyce often tries to concentrate on the Dorothy who was always on the go with her grandchildren and with whom Joyce often shared long phone conversations.

"One of my big fears (is that) I'm going to forget how she used to be."

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