Peggy S. Jackson was the first to notice that something was awry with her mother, Myrtle L. A. Roselle.

The 77-year-old retired educator had always been independent, but lately, it seemed things were a little off.

“I noticed some bills were being paid double, some weren’t being paid at all,” Jackson told the AFRO. “One day I went to go see her and she was sitting on the front porch. The house was full of smoke. She had tried to boil an egg and burned it.”

Then came the memory loss. It didn’t take long before doctors told Jackson what she was witnessing: her mother’s brain had slowly begun to shut down. She was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

A once-vibrant part of the Sharon Baptist Church, Roselle’s entire demeanor began to change and there was little she- or anyone else- could do about it.

“She began to have a suspicious nature and thought people were stealing from her. She was very active in the church, but had begun to accuse people in the church of theft,” said Jackson, who admits she knew nothing of tending to the daily needs of an adult before she was thrust into the position of full-time caregiver.

For 17 years she took on the responsibility- and the stressors that come along with it, until her mother passed away in March of last year. She was 94 years old.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 5.4 million people suffer Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. Many of that number begin showing the signs after age 60.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most prevalent form of dementia, which, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a term used for a variety of illnesses characterized by a loss of brain function regarding memory, language, or both. As brain function begins to dissipate, the organs controlled by the brain begin to fail.

“The brain is the command center for all of our function,” said Kimberly Lawson, healthcare administrator for the African American Alzheimer’s and Wellness Association. “With Alzheimer’s Disease, there could be short term memory loss with long term memory still in tact. There could be an inability complete mathematical solutions and repetitive questions- a person might come back asking the same questions maybe ten minutes or fifteen minutes after an answer.”

Lawson said other symptoms include a change in how one dresses.

“The ability to groom themselves declines as the disease begins to run its course,” she said, adding that family members should take notice if elder’s are layering their clothing unnecessarily or bathing irregularly.

Lawson also highlighted the importance of awareness in the African American community where hypertension and diabetes are rampant.

“Both of those diseases increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.

According to Cass Naugle, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association, dealing with an AD patient usually falls solely on family members- especially when Medicare and private insurance companies refuse to cover needed expenses.

“Many people just assume that Medicare will cover it, but Medicare only covers skilled care or acute care. The importance of getting information early on is so that the family can plan for the person’s care.”

The Alzheimer’s Association offers one-time $500 grants to offset the financial burdens caused by the disease.

According to information released by the Alzheimer’s Association, new mandates within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) make it easier for persons with early-onset AD to get coverage. The PPACA also makes care more accessible in the homes of patients- rather than only through nursing homes. The Maryland Health Connection is the insurance marketplace for Marylanders.

Like Lawson, Naugle said education is the first step in combating AD. Family members and concerned caregivers are encouraged to seek help from organizations focused on fighting and researching the disease. Local support groups can also be very helpful.

Caregivers are also strongly encouraged to seek out ways to manage their stress when caring for an AD patient, such as yoga, meditation, regular rest, or at the very least- a support group focused on caregivers.

Naugle said that African American community members with Alzheimer’s are usually the last to seek help because family members are quick to pick up the slack.

“The African American community cares for its elders,” she said. “Often family members start to take over for the person unconsciously. They’ll start getting the groceries, balancing the checkbook, and cleaning the house.”

“They don’t think to ask for support for something that should come naturally to the family, but at some point it gets to be more than one person or a family can handle.”

Naugle believes the holidays are the best time to check up on family members at risk of developing AD.

“If a family member hasn’t been home for a while, they may see changes in their loved one,” she said. “Pay attention to those changes if they look like they’ve lost weight, if they are not bathing, or if they are dressing incorrectly, make a call to the number and we can create a plan for helping that family member.”

If you know someone who is experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, please call 1-800-272-3900. Operators are on duty 24 hours a day.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer