by Rachel Turner
Maria Gonzalez left Mexico twenty-six years ago. “We moved here in search of a better life, like everyone else,” said Maria. “Now my mother is sick, and we’re able to help her.” Maria is one of the more than 350,000 people who serve as unpaid caregivers in Washington State and Northern Idaho. Maria’s story exemplifies the difficulties families face as they help loved ones live through a disease that still has no cure. More than 120,000 people have Alzheimer’s disease in Washington and Northern Idaho. “It’s important that my community knows about the resources available,” said Maria. “Caregiving is impossible alone.”
One of the resources Maria found useful was the Alzheimer’s Association Care Connections Program. In her home, Maria met with care consultant Janelle Jensen to learn more about the disease and to prepare a long-term care plan. “What motivates me as a care consultant is the opportunity to offer support in a really scary time,” said Janelle. “I want to help them; let them know they’re not alone in this disease journey and connect them with others through support groups and education events.” The goal of the care connections program is to empower people. “I meet people where they’re at, assess and offer support. Then I follow up through phone calls after that in-home meeting.”
November is National Caregiver Month as well as National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. The Alzheimer’s Association is available and prepared to support you. Find help with one phone call to 1.800.272.3900 and ask for a follow up from your local chapter. No one should walk this journey alone.
Maria Gonzalez prepares breakfast as her mom plays with a puzzle in their home in Washington. “It’s a beautiful thing to be able to help my mom,” said Maria. “She’s lived with us for seven years. It’s been hard, but she would have done the same for me, so why not do it for her?”
Maria serves coffee and breakfast to her mom. “We can’t abandon our elder loved ones just because we have to change them or help them,” said Maria. “There are moments when she’s completely lost to this disease. Sometimes she sees people and talks to people who are no longer with us.”
Maria shows a puzzle to her mom. “My mother doesn’t remember that she’s had eight children,” said Maria. “Sometimes she thinks that I’m either her teacher or her mom. Other times, no one would ever be able to tell that she has this terrible disease. Caregiving takes a lot of heart.”
After her mother suffered a stroke in 2009, Maria moved her from Mexico to Washington. “She began with vascular dementia, but now shows symptoms of Alzheimer’s,” said Maria. “Several times, when I’ve knelt before her helping with her shoes, she has caressed my head asking, ‘Who will help you if this happens to you?’ I tell her not to worry. We must continue working to find a cure.”
Maria’s sister greets their mother with a kiss. “I couldn’t care for mom alone,” said Maria. “We Latinos are very close, but we also need resources. I want my community to know that there are government resources and community resources that are available to help us. The Alzheimer’s Association helped connect us to some things we needed.”
Maria helps her mom walk to the car. “The most difficult time in my life has been seeing my mother with Alzheimer’s,” said Maria. “Thankfully, I have a very supportive husband. I’ve also attended many workshops and conferences by the Alzheimer’s Association to learn more about how to care for my mother.”
Maria’s mom and sister smile before they drive off. “It’s important that our community know about the resources,” said Maria. “We want to care for our parents just as they cared for us when we were children. That’s why I share our story.”
Register for the Central Washington Memory Loss Conference in Yakima or the Snohomish County Family Caregiver Conference to learn more about Alzheimer’s and other dementias and caregiving.
For a Care Consultation in Snohomish County call, 206.363.5500.