Personal Reflections on Alzheimer’s disease during National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month |

Personal Reflections on Alzheimer’s disease during National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month

Penny Rafferty Hamilton, Ph.D.
Special to Sky-Hi News
Grand County, CO Colorado

The memory is vivid. “Your mother has aspiration pneumonia due to her advanced Alzheimer’s disease,” the emergency physician said bluntly. “She will need 24/7 special nursing home care immediately.” My head was spinning. I must have looked like the proverbial “Colorado deer in the headlights.”

Living thousands of miles away, managing her care was challenging. Alzheimer’s was obviously winning this war.

The Bible verse, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” kept playing over in my mind. (Proverbs 3-5 NIV)

Some understanding was going to be vital so I headed to the library. Rating and reports about local care facilities, information on the disease, research updates, and resources were just a few key strokes away on websites such as and

“Some people rush to research information, becoming experts in their disease. Every time I have received bad health news, I felt like a healthy person who has been accidentally drop-kicked into a foreign county. I don’t know the language. The culture is unfamiliar. I have no idea what is expected of me. I have no map, and I desperately want to find my way home,” wrote Dr. Jessie Gruman in her book, “AfterShock: What to Do When the Doctor Gives You-Or Someone You Love-A Devastating Diagnosis.”

Finding my way in this foreign experience was difficult. First, you must grasp the new language of the disease and the care providers. This became evident when I needed to ensure “the” person-in-charge had all my phone numbers. I was told by a friendly nurse to talk to Don. Off I went room-by-room asking for Don. Finally, I was told neither “Don nor Dawn” worked there. When I explained, they said, “Oh, you mean DON-Director of Nursing.” This was a long journey.

I even bought “Medical Terms: Common Medical Abbreviations” to learn this foreign vocabulary which helped me to understand and actually “speak their language.” Caregivers shared more information because they did not have to explain every acronym. After all, I now knew “DON” and where her office was.

Books gave me the information for my personal road map. They helped me find my way home during the long journey to my mother’s death. S.M. Crothers explained that power. “From my point of view, a book is a literary RX put up for the benefit of someone who needs it. Good medicine available to benefit many deep wounds.”

More good medicine came in the form of specialized information and support from the Alzheimer’s Association. Grand County is served by the Northern Colorado office in Fort Collins. Emmalie Conner, Director, stressed the importance of using the FREE 27/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.

Also, Grand County is blessed to have two very active monthly caregiver support groups, which meet from 2-3 p.m. the second Thursdays of the month at the Granby Community Center, and, from 10-11 a.m. the second Fridays of the month at the Silver Spruce Apartments in Kremmling. Volunteer facilitators Betty Hagen or Marsha Braddy lead the discussions. To learn more call Marsha at 887-0255.

Bad things do happen to good people. But, good people make a wise choice to ask for help. I encourage you to reach out to family and medical caregivers. They are fighting on the front lines every day because an estimated 5.4 million Americans are now living in the Alzheimer’s war zone. That number is expected to grow to as many as 16 million. It could be your family. Join the battle by donating today so a cure is found soon.

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