- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Zander Wilmes, 7, of Bismarck had few words at a presentation in his honor Nov. 25. Yet family members say he was a key caretaker and a bright spot during many of the 10 years in which his late great-grandmother, Beth Bauman, dealt with Alzheimer’s disease.

“I would bring her stuff. I played games with her,” said Zander, who learned to play Scrabble at a young age because it was her favorite.

The boy brought her food, snacks and they read together from his library and school books. They shared a mutual fondness for ice cream. Their bond started with great-grandmother reading to the boy. When she couldn’t, he read to her.

The AARP recognized family caretakers during November, the Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/1Np4hXg ) reports. Zander was awarded a playful portrait with his loved one, one of 53 done across the country drawn from 1,000 personal stories submitted, according to Josh Askvig, ?Associate State Director of Advocacy N.D. at AARP. It was presented Nov. 25 at the AARP office in Bismarck.

Askvig said there are 62,000 North Dakotans who are family caregivers and 40 million nationwide who help loved ones remain independent at home.

Kathie Bauman’s story about her mother, Beth, details how important Zander was to his great-grandmother.

“Playing with him and reading to him kept Mom more alert and active … We realized she would eat and drink better if he gave her (snacks). They decided 3:30 was ice cream time. Even after Zander started school, he came each day after school to spend time with her,” she said.

Kathie Bauman said Zander learned Beth’s routine and he was able to tell others when she needed her pills.

“She would take them for him but would refuse to sometimes when others brought them to her. He also knew she could not remember things and he became her ‘rememberer.’ … It was the youngest caregiver who provided the most important care to her.”

Family members say they are grateful Beth Bauman never forgot who they were.

Karen Johnson, of Underwood, said she gave up her job to share in the duties of caring for her mom as three of eight siblings who lived nearby. Yet family members were able to keep Beth home with the exception of three days of her life in a nursing home and some hospitalization.

“I made it down every day just to be with her. I would help her with all of her medical needs. But the whole family had to pitch in order to do it,” she said.

Johnson said Zander was more than token help to his great-grandmother.

“That’s what kept her going for so long. Even when she was in the hospital in the end, her face lighted the minute he came through the door,” she said. “They were best buddies. Mom would say, ‘go get me a cookie,’ and he would come back with a cookie for her to eat.”

Johnson said she knew her mother needed help a decade ago when she could no longer do her daily activities alone.

“She couldn’t get dressed by herself. She couldn’t make food for herself. You had to make sure she ate and drank. Otherwise, she would get dehydrated,” Johnson said. “She couldn’t be left alone. We had to schedule things so someone was always there. It started when she was 80. Hers was a slow, progressive thing until the last couple of years, and then it went really fast.”

The portrait was done by a commissioned artist Margarita Berg, who worked from a photo submitted by a family member. Zander is playfully nestling behind her neck in the photo, playing “rabbit ears” when the photo was taken, according to family members.

Beth Bauman, 88, died in March. The family still gathers at her home, according to Johnson.

“We will still get together at Thanksgiving, knowing that’s what Mom would want - us to stay together,” she said.

___

Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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