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Program Helps Daughter Cope with Caring for Mother at Home

Imagine your 86-year-old mother has Alzheimer’s disease. Imagine she lives with you, your spouse and your 12- and 15-year-old children. Now imagine your mother rarely knows who you are. You are beginning to get a picture of Lisa’s life.

“My Mom knows I’m the person she trusts and the person who makes sure she’s okay, but very rarely am I her daughter Lisa,” said Lisa, a Fort Worth resident. “Usually I’m her grandmother, or a home health nurse she’s had in the past, or ‘hey you.’”

Lisa’s mother, Peggy, moved in with the family in June 2013. Once extremely independent, she had to depend on her daughter for everything because Lisa is an only child. Lisa, who had worked at nonprofit organizations most of her life, began staying home with her mother full time.

I was so overwhelmed with everything that needed to be taken care of to care for my mother that I couldn’t have piled one more thing on my plate if I had tried to,” recalled Lisa. She called the Alzheimer’s Association and learned about REACH II, a program that equips Alzheimer’s caregivers to care for their loves ones—and themselves.

United Way brought the program to Tarrant County, where it is offered by the Alzheimer’s Association with funds from the United Way campaign. REACH II (Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver Health) uses in-home visits by Alzheimer’s Association professionals to identify and address the areas where caregivers are most at risk; whether they are struggling with depression, stress, self-care, social support, safety issues or problem behavior.

“Caregivers are often kind of ‘in the trenches’ by themselves,” said Lead Dementia Care Specialist Teresa Linn (pictured above at left, with Lisa), who worked with Lisa for six months. “We can’t make the Alzheimer’s disease go away, but we help caregivers realize they do have the ability to keep that loved one at home as long as possible.”

“You think you’re not doing it well enough, or that you can’t provide everything you need to provide,” said Lisa, “and then you talk to someone who’s so knowledgeable and they tell you that you are doing a great job, and you are valuable, and it’s important that you stay healthy. It was very, very beneficial to me.”

“The whole medical part is so overwhelming and so out of my league that to have a person who has so much perspective to talk to makes it easier,” she added. “Teresa answered questions and told me about resources. And there were times we didn’t talk about Alzheimer’s. Teresa was a perfect match to make me feel comfortable with her. “

While Lisa’s immediate concern is for her mother’s safety and wellbeing, she also wonders about her own genetic predisposition to have Alzheimer’s someday. “I eat the ‘super foods’ and do the minimum 20 minutes of exercise a day and do crossword puzzles, but I just think I’d be crazy not to think it’s in my future,” she said. She wants to help her children become informed about Alzheimer’s and prepared for that day if it comes. “That’s a gift I can give to them,” she said.

Lisa is grateful for United Way’s support of the REACH II program. “As someone who gives charitable dollars, I like to know that someone isn’t throwing money around willy-nilly,” she said. ”As I’m discovering, there’s so little funding for the care of Alzheimer’s patients unless they have a medical problem. I appreciate United Way for stepping in to fill that gap, even if it’s just part of it.”