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Alzheimer's Disease: A Story About Caregivers

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  • Andrew Clay

    Andrew Clay

    Andrew is the Monongalia and Preston County reporter, as well as a Sports reporter.

MORGANTOWN -

For people diagnosed with Alzheimer's, the disease is a difficult whirlwind of emotions. The mental strain on their loved ones around them, however, is especially daunting as well.

Every day, the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's increases. In West Virginia, over 44,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease.

But this is not about the numbers, or the symptoms. It's about the impact on not only those diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but also their loved ones, who often take on the role as their caregiver.

"My mom is usually very happy, and cheerful, and up, and has a lot of good memories, and I usually just try to focus on the good things," said Marti Shamberger, whose mother suffers from dementia.

Shamberger has a full time job, a family with two kids, and a seat on Morgantown City Council. She never thought she'd be watching her mother suffer from dementia, with Shamberger and her father both taking on dual roles as caregiver. "You know, sometimes I feel pretty overwhelmed," Shamberger said. "But I've learned when people say 'What can I do to help you?' to take them up on it."

Life with Alzheimer's is much like riding a roller coaster, with ups and downs around every turn. Sometimes the struggles come days apart, and other times minutes apart, but Shamberger knows to expect the unexpected.

"I find it very frustrating," Shamberger said, "but I also realize that that's not my mom, it's the disease."

Shamberger always tries to stay positive, just like her mom.

"My mom tries to be very positive and tries not to be frustrated," Shamberger said. "But I think it's kind of scary, not knowing sometimes, you're in a conversation and you can't remember something, and I think the frustration really builds up."

While a person suffering from dementia is not necessarily suffering from Alzheimer's disease, both are accompanied with symptoms that include difficulties with short-term memory, language and perception among others.

"None of us get old and forgetful to the point where we're ever going to need supportive services for that memory, we may slow down as we age," said Amy Ernst of the Alzheimer's Association in Morgantown. "And it's important for people to know that senility and people becoming old and forgetful is one of the biggest myths."

The Alzheimer's Association estimates that in 2010, over 105,000 West Virginians were caregivers of people suffering from Alzheimer's. "If you're in this position like I am, reach out for help and don't give up," Shamberger said. "It's very easy to."

The Villages at Heritage Point in Morgantown have been holding public education presentations on Alzheimer's. The final two presentations are on Tuesday, Feb. 28, and Tuesday, March 6.