Life changed for Leanne on April 22, 2009.
That's when this Mount Pleasant single mom found out her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. On the very same day, her father dropped dead from a massive heart attack in Chicago.
"Life was just a little bit hectic," she remembers.
Exactly five years later - April 22, 2014 - Leanne's life changed again, but this time, for the better.
She found out her mother, 69-year-old Donna, whose memory has significantly deteriorated over the past five years, was approved to move into a nearby assisted-living home.
"She'd been denied so many times," Leanne said. Other homes insisted her mother should be placed in full-time Alzheimer's care, not a lower-level assisted-living facility.
"When she was approved to go in this nursing home and I said, 'Thank God.' "
In the meantime, Donna will continue living with Leanne and her 9-year-old son until she moves into the nursing home this month.
"Nobody understands what it's like. I come home from work every day and the entire contents of my kitchen cabinets are somewhere other than where I left them. It's just one example," Leanne said. "I come home and my mother, who will complain about carrying in a gallon of milk because it's too heavy, has managed to relocate all of my lawn furniture from my backyard into the middle of my living room."
These are the frustrations of a daughter who, like so many other adult children, struggles daily to care for a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
"I need to take a break every now and then," Leanne admitted. She asked that her family's last names be omitted from this article for their privacy.
The federal government released its 2014 National Alzheimer's Disease Plan update last week, including strategies to assist "family caregivers to continue to provide care while maintaining their own health and well-being."
More and more South Carolinians are finding themselves in this boat, torn between their guilt and a desire to continue caring for their loved ones at home.
In a Winthrop University Poll released last month, nearly 18 percent of South Carolinians interviewed said they currently had a parent, sibling or spouse who suffers from Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia. Of those patients, almost three-fourths reside in South Carolina, the poll shows.
"As our older population ages, and the boomers hit retirement age, and more retirees move into South Carolina, some of my colleagues and I were talking about what kinds of public health-public policy issues the state might be facing," said Scott Huffmon, director of Winthrop University's Social & Behavioral Research Lab.
He said he didn't know what to expect when pollsters asked residents about their family members with Alzheimer's, but Leanne said the results don't surprise her. In fact, she thought the percentage might be higher.
Dr. Bruce Ovbiagele, chairman of the Department of Neurology at the Medical University of South Carolina, said a 2012 study found that 2 percent of all South Carolinians have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
"It's definitely going to go up," Ovbiagele said.
South Carolina has the 10th highest death rate from Alzheimer's disease in the country, according to the national Alzheimer's Association, and the state has seen an 80 percent increase in Alzheimer's deaths since 2000.
As the population ages, the percentage of residents diagnosed with Alzheimer's may increase as much as 30 percent in the next 10 to 20 years, Ovbiagele said. "The burden is going to be huge for caregivers."
Leanne said the decision to move her mother into a nursing home has been difficult.
"It's hard to move someone from the only home she's ever known," she said. "My mom seems to think she's perfectly fine and nothing is wrong for her. ... I thought I needed patience as a single mom. Holy cow. There are no words to describe the level of patience needed to deal with someone with Alzheimer's."
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.
Donna interacts with her grandson.×
“Pet therapy is huge in our house,” said Leanne as her mom hugs Collins, the family dog.×
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