Michael M. hails from New York. When he moved to Springfield a few years ago for work, he found himself alone and dealing with one of the biggest challenges of his life – the Alzheimer’s Disease of his beloved wife, Sandra. Sandra was 67, an RN who ran her own holistic nursing practice, when she first began showing symptoms of dementia. Michael shares that the first sign was Sandra not being able to calculate a 20% tip on a dinner bill. Michael states that “we joked about it” and he tried re-teaching her but “it just did not click”. Sandra was not unaware of what Alzheimer’s was – her father had it and she had cared for him. Although long distance, she had taken control and managed everything incredibly well.
Michael shares that Sandra was a “vibrant, intelligent, community person” who, along with running her own practice, was involved in volunteer work. She was very engaged and living life. “That was what got to me…as she progressed, the changes came rapidly…I could see her losing it. She went from a warm, wonderful person to being a real pain”, says Michael with a sad smile.
Michael and Sandra had no children and their families were spread around. Michael had no one to help him and, even if he had, Michael admits that he wouldn’t have asked for help. “I was looking for a way to fix it, looking for something to fix”. Michael blamed Sandra, blamed himself for what was happening. Soon, Michael found himself becoming very depressed and very isolated. He made no plans for the future, no plans for Sandra’s care. Finally, one day Michael hit bottom and realized that he just couldn’t take it anymore – he felt “burnt to a crisp”. Michael ended up placing Sandra in a nursing home and 2 months later ended up in the hospital due to stress. Michael says that was his low point.
After the burden of Sandra’s daily care had been lifted, Michael felt that there was “nothing left”, he went further into his shell and just worked. Realizing he needed help, Michael went to see a therapist. Although not impressed with the therapist, she did recommend that he get involved in a support group and referred him to the Alzheimer’s Association.
On attending his first meeting of the Caregiver Support Group at the WISE Center Branch, Michael was sure that this would be of no help and that listening to other people’s stories would just “bum him out more”. That first meeting proved the exact opposite. Michael found what he had needed all the time – support, understanding, empathy, and even some laughs. The group helped him realize how narrow his perspective had been, how deep into the “caregiver syndrome” he was. He thought he knew everything about Alzheimer’s but still finds himself learning more at every meeting. Through sharing with others, Michael realized “I was not alone”.
Michael continues to attend the Caregiver Group each month and now also participates in the Bereavement Support Group. Even though Sandra passed away in 2016, Michael keeps attending the Caregiver Group because, “It’s an opportunity for me to share my experiences and help others coping with similar things. There is no manual on this. Everyone is different but we have a bond in sharing this experience. There is no right way to do it, no wrong way. You just have to do it. If you love your person, it’s the only choice.”