By Laurelle Walsh
Don Reddington is a man with a mission: to help people learn about the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the patient, their family and the community.
“I don’t want to give up life,” Don said. “I accept what’s going on. I tell people that I’m losing my memory.”
For the past eight months, Don has collaborated with Dr. Raleigh Bowden and reporter Laurelle Walsh on a ten-part series for the Methow Valley News called Living with Alzheimer’s: a monthly column that discusses the realities of living with the disease from the patient’s point of view. Don and his collaborators have agreed to share several chapters with the Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter.
Don, 71, and his wife, artist Ginger Reddington, live on a farm in the Methow Valley with a passel of horses, dogs, chickens and a pet rabbit. He’s a gregarious guy who does not hesitate to enter into conversations with strangers. During his career as a CPA and financial consultant Don headed up a large medical group in Tacoma and directed management consulting services for a Spokane accounting firm until he retired in 2006.
“He’s a smart guy, a numbers person,” said Ginger. “He’s always been able to work things out mentally.”
About a year and a half ago, Don received the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). He notified his three daughters right away, and within a few days he and Ginger had drafted a letter to 150 friends and family members to get the news out, he said.
“It was amazing how many people said how much they admired us for bringing it out in the open,” Don said. He was also impressed by the number of people who have wanted to talk to him and share stories of family members in similar situations.
These days, although still quite talkative, Don has difficulty finding words when he speaks, and reading and writing are increasingly challenging for him. “He gets frustrated. I can see what his problems are, but there’s nothing you can do besides help him find a different way of doing things,” Ginger said.
Not long after receiving the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Don became close friends with Jerry Bristol, another Methow Valley resident living with a later stage of AD. Although Jerry has lost most of his verbal ability, he and Don talk often and go for walks. Don wants to tell his and Jerry’s stories in the hope of helping others cope with the disease.
“Seeing what Jerry has gone through helps me see what’s coming,” Don noted.
Jerry was diagnosed with AD about six years ago, when he noticed he was having trouble speaking. “He wanted the evaluation,” said his wife, Josephine Bristol. “He thought something was up.”
Jerry also has a family history of AD; his mother, maternal uncle and grandmother all had the disease. His younger brother, Peter, though symptom free, is currently participating in a three-year nationwide study of Alzheimer’s treatments.
Josephine, Jerry’s primary caregiver, says that because taking care of him is a 24-hour-a-day job, finding time for herself is one of her biggest challenges. The other is patience – not getting upset when her husband is unable to do something, she said.
“The spouse’s role is really important,” said Don. “You have to change your life … and work together to make a plan for the future.” It’s also important for both spouse and patient to have an outlet for their frustrations, he added.
I try to let him be the man that he is, but I do get angry – at the disease, not at him,” Ginger said. “This thing is taking my husband away day by day.”
Still, the Reddingtons manage to keep a sense of humor and positivity about their challenges. “We laugh a lot about all this,” Ginger said. “When he gets hung up on a word or phrase I’ll say, ‘Give me a hint,’ and we figure out what he’s trying to say.”
Ginger sees the Living with Alzheimer’s project as “a lovely gift …. It’s Don’s story. He wants to let people know what’s going on and how he feels about it.”