- Associated Press - Sunday, March 5, 2017

SULPHUR, La. (AP) - Seven years ago, Gene Yates started noticing changes in her husband of 56 years.

Walter, a seasoned home cook, started forgetting the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon.

He’d go for a drive, come back and tell her he’d gotten lost.

Once, he tried to run a red light with Gene in the passenger seat.

After several doctor’s appointments, the diagnosis was confirmed: Alzheimer’s.

Though no cure exists, the Alzheimer’s Association emphasizes that early detection can mean better access to medical care and more time to plan.

Community educator Devin Cash said the organization’s Lousiana Chapter recently held a free workshop in Sulphur to teach attendees how to detect Alzheimer’s symptoms - and differentiate them from typical aging - in their parents, grandparents and spouses.

Cash said it’s typically families who will recognize the symptoms, especially because they evolve slowly.

Gene first noticed Walter’s symptoms despite a family history free of Alzheimer’s.

For the first five years, Gene cared for him in the home they’d lived in since 1956.

But the cooking, shopping and errands - coupled with her own anger, stress and worry - eventually took their toll. Twice, she was hospitalized with stomach bleeds.

She placed Walter in a home - Brookdale Senior Living, on Country Club Road - nearly two years ago, knowing the only other option was “me going completely under.”

Now, she visits every day for two, three, sometimes four hours.

A longtime parishioner of First Baptist Church, and now Trinity Baptist, Walter still enjoys singing his hymns.

He likes to take car rides with Gene around the city, and he can hold generally coherent conversations.

But over a year ago, he stopped recognizing their two daughters. More recently, he forgot Gene.

“He used to always tell me, ‘You’re Miss Gene, you’re my sweetheart and I love you,’” she said. “I don’t hear that much anymore.”

When she leaves Brookdale, she still worries about whether he’ll eat dinner, whether the aides will get him in his pajamas that night.

But she advises other caregivers to carve out “me time.” She takes hers stretched out on the recliner, reading a book, watching TV or praying.

She’s dealt with depression, but she’s learned to get help for negative feelings and to resist the urge to be “superwoman.”

She’s leaning more friends and neighbors and “taking it day by day.”

And Walter?

“I wouldn’t trade him for the world, even as he is right now,” Gene said.

The couple met in 1953 at a Trinity Baptist Church revival. He worked at Conoco; she was a first-year teacher at Oak Park Elementary. They married the next year.

They had a lot of things going for them, she said, and their marriage has been remarkably happy.

“We had been married for so many years, and I thought that life would go on forever, until the Lord brought us home,” Gene said. “But it didn’t - it came to a screeching halt.”

Throughout their marriage, Gene and Walter had been supporters of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Gene suspects God knew they’d be affected one day, too.

___

Information from: American Press, https://www.americanpress.com


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