During the summer of 1989, Bruce and his fiancée (now wife), Kathleen, were at a family picnic. His great-aunt was there, sitting in a wheelchair, not knowing where she was, who we were, or what was going on. She passed from Alzheimer’s a few years later.
Early Signs Hidden by Grief
In 1995, Bruce lost his father-in-law suddenly. In interacting with his mother-in-law the same day his father-in-law passed away, he started to notice small things. She was forgetting how to lock the door and she was leaving numerous notes around the house with instructions on how things worked or where to find things. It quickly became apparent that this was not due to grief from the passing of her husband but something else was going on that she was trying to cover up.
“We began to notice an increasing number of memory issues over the next year or so. We talked to her doctor, but he was convinced it was from her grief and that she would recover from it. My wife and I did not see any change or improvement as time went on, so one Sunday morning my wife took her mother to the local University Hospital to be evaluated,” says Bruce.
Two days later they came out with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. They were told she couldn’t be left alone and quickly had to make plans for her safety. A year later they were able to move her to Assistive Living and then to skilled nursing two and a half years later. She passed in 2002 after a year and a half in the skilled nursing facility.
Alzheimer’s Appears Again
Shortly after moving his mother-in-law moved to Assistive Living, they began to notice memory issues with his dad, as well. Bruce and his wife kept in close communication with their family doctor about his dad’s condition, especially since he lived alone as Bruce’s mom had passed away 10 years earlier.
Bruce’s dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2000. He was doing well on his own but eventually decided he wanted to be around others. They found and moved him into an independent living facility. 11 months later he slipped further into the disease and was required to move to an assisted living facility where he would stay for 3 years. It was later deemed by his doctor that he would need to be moved to a skilled nursing facility as his condition progressed. They moved him to the New York State Veterans Home where he spent the last 6 years of his life before he passed in December 2012.
Just a few years prior to his Dad’s passing, they began to notice memory issues with with his uncle, Howard. Uncle Howard lived alone about 3 hours from Bruce and his wife. He never married, never had children, and had very few relatives close by. They always made sure to invite him to family events and holidays, which he often attended and enjoyed. When they realized his memory issues had progressed to a worrisome point, they started accompanying him to his doctor appointments.
After a minor stroke, Uncle Howard was admitted to a skilled nursing home. Once Howard was admitted to skilled nursing, Bruce and his wife had to clean out his home, apply for Medicaid, and take care of all his personal business. He later passed away in December 2022.
Caregiving for a Quarter-Century
December 2022 brings to the end of 26 years of being caregivers to three loved ones with Alzheimer’s for Bruce and his wife.
“All the time we were caregivers for my mother-in-law, father, and uncle, we were also parents to our daughter and son.” says Bruce, “Our children were only 4 and 1 when our Alzheimer’s journey started. They lived through that journey into young adulthood throughout our 26 years as caregivers for our loved ones. Also, during this time I held a full-time job that required travel from time to time.”
Connecting with Others Through the Alzheimer’s Association
Bruce and his wife were able to find support on their long journey with Alzheimer’s through local support groups, education opportunities, and community events, like the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
Bruce’s family has been involved with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s ever since his mother-in-law was diagnosed in 1998,. They’ve been a part of various teams over the years including one from their church.
“I Walk to End Alzheimer’s to help put Alzheimer’s in the rearview mirror. And until then, I walk to support those families that are on their Alzheimer’s journey.” says Bruce, “Advancements in research to slow the disease give me hope and will one day hopefully stop Alzheimer’s in its tracks.”
Bruce and his family have been affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia for over a quarter of a century. Though years of caring for loved ones may seem like it would dampen one’s flame, it’s only fueled his fire to fight the disease. Bruce is a dedicated advocate, volunteer, and walk participant.
Add your flower to the fight. With over 16 Walk to End Alzheimer’s events across Washington and North Idaho, there are endless opportunities to get involved. Volunteer for a walk, start a team or donate at alz.org/walk.