Alzheimer's: The Caregiver's Struggle
Dan Babl says his wife, Ronda, 58, was always forgetful -- but he first noticed something was wrong after she was in a car accident four years ago.
"We'd always had problems with difficulty with her keeping appointments, or forgetting to pick up the kids at school," he said, "but after she had the auto accident, it became a lot more difficult."
And over time, her memory got worse.
"She just couldn't remember from day to day, some simple tasks," Dan Babl said. "The checkbook was a mess. I finally had to just take that away, because she couldn't keep a checkbook, and after a while, she couldn't remember how to write a check."
Her daughter, Kay, noticed the change, too.
"She would always ask me how to use the computer, like 'How do I do this?'" she said, "Or you know, 'I want to write this Christmas card, and I don't remember how to do this,' or asking me to show her how to call people in her phone, and it's like, 'Mom, I just showed you that yesterday.'"
It was then that she realized that her mother's forgetfulness was something much more serious.
"It made me see, 'Ok there's something [going on]," she said. "Normal people are going to remember how to use their phone every day, or I'm going to show them and they're going to catch on to that. But simple things you tried to show her, she just didn't catch on -- even if I showed her a hundred times."
Ronda -- who was only in her early 50s -- was later diagnosed with dementia.
Eventually, Dan -- who works full–time for the family's remodeling business -- began caring for his wife at home, but the constant fear of Ronda hurting herself or wandering off took a toll on him.
"I worried about the microwave -- her using that, maybe putting metal in it," he said. "I turned the breaker off on the cooktop because I absolutely didn't want her using the cooktop at all. You worry about any of those heating elements that could cause a fire. Locking herself out of the house -- it seemed like that was always happening."
All of their neighbors even had keys to their house, he says, in case that happened.
"The next thing that was always a concern was if she got up in the middle of the night," he said. "Where was she going? Was she walking out of the house? So the caregiver doesn't get a lot of sleep."
Alzheimer's expert, Alexandra Dillon, associate director of the Alzheimer's Association, agrees.
"Most families with somebody with dementia, it's the family members that are providing care in the home for them," she said, "So the impact of trying to care for a loved one at home and maintain your employment is incredibly stressful."
And that burden often causes caregivers to die before the patient they're caring for.
Over time, Ronda's dementia became so severe, she couldn't speak or feed herself -- and eventually, couldn't even remember her own daughter.
"Maybe if she has a really good day, she might recognize dad, but I don't think that she recognizes me," Kay Babl said.
Dan finally made the difficult decision to put his wife into a care facility.
"You feel like you've abandoned them, you've given up on them," he said. "That you're not doing your duty."
And for Kay, who's walking down the aisle next year, not having her mom around for those big milestones has been the greatest challenge.
"Your mom is supposed to be there for you for certain things," she said, "like getting your wedding dress, or seeing you graduate from college -- or just the small things that you get to do with your mom normally."