MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT) -- Mary Jane Worthwell looks the picture of health as she sits in her daughter’s Murfreesboro dining room pouring over old family photo albums, but looks can be deceiving.
Worthwell is one of the more than 120,000 Tennesseans with Alzheimer’s, or some other form of dementia. As she looks at the images of her loved ones, she struggles to remember their names.
Daughter Linda Cathey and son-in-law Ron moved Mrs. Worthwell into their home in 2010. It’s been an exhausting, heart-wrenching experience for everyone involved. Linda Cathey says that, early on, her mother’s frustration with her growing memory loss frequently boiled over into anger. She was especially short tempered with son-in-law Ron.
“She never hit him. Thank God she never hit him,” Linda Cathey says, “but she would put her fist right up in his face.”
The Cathey’s have also had to cope with unusual, sometimes bizarre behavior. At one point, Mrs. Worthwell stopped sleeping at night.
“I’d wake up and she’d be standing right over top of me, and she’d say ‘Linda, you look so sleepy,’ and I’d say, ‘Mother, that’s because I was asleep and you woke me up,” Linda Cathey recalls, laughing.
The Catheys says things got a lot easier when they finally took time to learn more about her mother’s illness.
“Her brain is dying. We didn’t realize this before.” Cathey explains. “I kept thinking, ‘My mom is doing these things intentionally just to aggravate the life out of me.’ Then we realized, no, she’s not. She can’t control this.”
Ron and Linda also say their circumstances took a turn for the better after they connected with the Middle Tennessee chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Spokesperson Tiffany Cloud-Mann says the Association can help new caregivers find their footing.
“We can learn about where they’re at with the disease and really connect them with resources and help them ultimately make a plan of care so they know where they’re going with this disease in the journey,” Mann explains.
Mann says one of the Association’s best resources is a network of peer support groups. She notes that care giving is a 24/7 commitment that often leaves caregivers isolated.
“(It) not only prevents them from doing the social outings and things that they’ve always done, but also a lot of times family and friends don’t know how to react. They don’t know what to say or how they can help, and so sometimes - unfortunately - the thing that happens is that they quit contacting them or quit coming by,” she says.
According to Mann, the State of Tennessee offers few resources for caregivers. She says federal aid generally isn’t available until a patient reaches the final stages of the disease.
“Now some states with Medicare…Medicare will actually pay the primary care giver to provide the care in the home. Unfortunately, Tennessee is not one of those states,” she says.
The Alzheimer’s Association is painfully aware that Baby Boomers are just now beginning to swell the ranks of Tennesseans suffering from some form of dementia.
“We’re going to see many more people, not only effected with the disease but obviously then more people effected as care givers and the impact that has on every part of society,” Mann concludes.
Linda Cathey says that caring for her mother’s needs has gotten somewhat less difficult as they’ve learned to cope, but the pain of having the mother she once knew slowly stolen away never gets easier.
“She’ll never be the mom that raised me. She’ll never again be that person because she can’t be.”
Use this link if you’d like to learn more about the Middle Tennessee chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.