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Caregivers and Alzheimer's Patients Travel a Hard Road

Twice a week, Sue Miller drives her husband Don to a day care center for the elderly. He's easily the youngest person in the room, but since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at the age of 55, Don has required more structure and Sue has needed more of a break.

"I see more confusion, I see much slower movement and slower finding words," says Sue of her husband.

Though the journey through Alzheimer's disease has few official mileposts since we last met the Millers 8 months ago, Don has moved from stage 1 to stage 2. He failed a driving test, can't learn new things, can't be left alone. Don admits, " I feel a great loss of ability to change anything. There's very little to be optimistic about in the long run."

Sue has also hired a companion for her husband. The two men go for walks together, make meals, and talk stocks. But in many ways the help is more for Sue. Being an Alzheimer's caregiver is taking a toll:

" I'm not tired physically. I'm just emotionally so drained, emotionally and mentally I'm so drained," Sue explains. She tells a story about the day she lost him in New York's Grand Central Station at rush hour.

"I'm going to say something perfectly horrible. I had two reactions: One was, 'Oh, my God, what am I going to do, where is he? I've lost him. How could this happen?' And the other one was, 'Ha!! Yeah!! Oh, boy!! Freedom!!'"

Despite her ambivalence, Sue remains dedicated to Don and the time they have left.

"We still have today. Is it the today that we wanted? No, absolutely not. But we've got it and we're going to make the most of it."

That's the way the Beckers see things, too.

Ruth Becker was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease when we saw her on the tennis court last fall. Now she's having increasing trouble moving, talking, and relating.

As Ruth's confusion worsens, the Beckers face another crisis. Bob Becker has been diagnosed with cancer and Ruth doesn't understand. As Ruth's main caregiver and partner of 47 years, Bob's biggest worry is her.

"My prime concern is that Ruth is comfortable happy and cared for," says Bob.

Bob has also hired help around the house and says he will turn to his supportive family and friends and continue to live each day to the fullest.

Bob says, "It's nice having her on the scene under any circumstances and I'm glad you're here, right? I'll take care of you, Kiddo."

As the disease progresses it becomes clear: Surviving Alzheimer's is as much about the health and well-being of the caregiver as the patient.

To learn more about one families struggle with Alzheimer's, visit a site by Susan and Don Miller.
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