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Senior Correspondent

Alzheimer’s has become a pandemic that knows no boundaries, impacting the world over. Researchers are committed to finding a cure and in time will succeed in their efforts. But in the interim it continues to grow at an alarming rate.

Millions of people suffer from Alzheimer’s. Treatment options are limited. Existing drugs may mask symptoms for a period of time but can do nothing to stop the relentless progression of Alzheimer’s. Safe and selective medications that will halt the cause of this underlying disease are needed. The goal is to find, through scientific research, a drug that will be able to prevent the onset of the disease.

It is estimated that in excess of 35 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease and that number could very well be on the low side. Currently 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and every 70 seconds someone in America develops Alzheimer’s disease. That in itself is a tragedy in the making. The illness is now ranked as the fifth leading cause of death for adults aged 65 years and older. Presently, there is no cure for this illness. These are alarming statistics.

The ‘Good News” is that ‘Help Is ‘On the Way’ through monetary donations, large and small, allowing the top researchers in the world to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. That day, that moment will come through a major breakthrough that will eradicate this disease from the face of the earth. In the interim, many wonderful people are giving of themselves to others, assisting them in need, whether to a care giver or a victim of this horrific disease.
Shirley Gordon is one of those special persons who willingly gives of her time, talents and resources to those who are hurting while dealing with Alzheimer’s. With Shirley’s permission I am sharing with you some of her thoughts on how to cope with the disease and live a relatively good life in the process.

Shirley Gordon, Rita Pelland, Nell Shea, Jan Crawford, Marjorie Bonneville and Jim Crawford at the NARFE NH meeting. 

This past October, our NARFE NH Chapter 1694 (Lakes Region-Mount Washington Valley) invited Shirley Gordon was invited to speak, thanks to the efforts of my wife Rita Pelland. Rita is totally committed to Alzheimer’s, serving as our chairperson for fund raising and awareness of Alzheimer’s through our chapter and federation newsletter. It proved to be a wonderful presentation on the part of Shirley Gordon, as she passionately spoke about caregivers and victims of this illness.

Here are Shirley Gordon’s passionate remarks:

Alzheimer’s and Dementia has become an epidemic in our society today. This disease does not discriminate and is a very long, painful, and heartbreaking journey. My husband Mike was diagnosed almost 5 years ago with FTD (Frontal Temporal Dementia). He was just 64 years old, very healthy and never had taken any medication or was never hospitalized. He retired at 62 years old and we had many plans for our future.

Our dreams were shattered and I just fell apart the day he was diagnosed and I heard those words. The signs were there prior to his diagnosis but I chose not to believe it. I was in denial and heartbroken and physically and mentally drawn. Mike’s illness was progressing very quickly and because of my lack of education about this disease, resources available, and being in denial, things escalated quickly for us.

At the doctor’s recommendation, two years later, Mike went into Long Term Care. My hope and goal was to educate myself about this disease and learn about all the resources available to me in hopes of bringing him back home. In the time he was in Long Term Care I educated myself about this disease and learned about all the resources available to me. I learned everything there was to learn about Long Term Care and the daily routine. Routine and familiarity is so important to someone who has this disease.

Last year I was stronger than I ever was and ready to resume my role as a Caregiver. I had a clean bill of health and had finally accepted this diagnosis and disease. Before I could bring Mike home there were lots of thoughts put into this and a care plan had to be made. I brought my Mike home last July and happy to report he is doing very well. He attends an Adult Day Care Program at Easter Seals three days each week and loves it. This has never been done before someone leaving Long Term Care and attending a day program. We have broken records. We have a routine and we tweak as we need to and it works, and he is very happy. We just crossed another milestone and went to Florida for Christmas and spent it with my in-laws. Yes, Mike did awesome. I believe if you want something bad enough that you can do it if you believe. The second time around, and yes I am successful with managing this disease. It is very unpredictable and you always have to be on your guard.

I have caregivers as I need them to sit with Mike so I have respite time. This was the mistake I made two years ago. I also take care of myself and I am very active in advocacy work for Alzheimer’s. I am a Board Member for  The Alzheimer’s Association  of both New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  I do some consulting work with Home Care Agencies and Elder Care attorneys. I meet with families regularly who are just starting out with this process. I facilitate two support groups in New Hampshire and I also facilitate The Memory Lane Café. I do lots of public speaking engagements and tell our story when asked.

My hope, dream and goal are that someday we will have a world without Alzheimer’s. In the meantime the researchers are working diligently round the clock to find a cure. Advocacy and getting the word out to the public and education about this disease is the key. You can never know enough about this disease. It is like riding a roller coaster every day. There are good days and bad days. I take it a day at a time because every day with my Mike is precious and moments we will never have again. I am the voice for my Mike and for those who cannot speak for themselves about Alzheimer’s/Dementia. We are not alone on this journey. Hope is a good thing. The key to successful care giving is routine, patience education, awareness and lots of love. I am very passionate about this work and mission. It is my life now and I am committed to this and in it for the long haul. 

Gordon and Rita Pelland reviewing a photo album. 

Hosting Shirley Gordon — an Alzheimer’s caregiver, advocate and consultant — was a revealing occasion to hear what it means to be all of the above to a spouse, and together, challenged with this illness. Love must be lived to the fullest.

The elimination of Alzheimer’s disease will come, just as it did with diseases such as Polio and Tuberculosis which once ran rampant, but are now very uncommon in the U.S. It will come as a result of doctors who are totally committed to ending this dreaded illness. It will also be in large measure due to caregivers who are meeting the needs of Alzheimer’s patients. And finally it will come as a result of those of us who donate to Alzheimer’s research. Together we will succeed.

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