State health officials estimate about 300,000 Pennsylvania residents live with Alzheimer's disease and another 100,000 struggle with other types of dementia. Those figures don't account for their family members whose lives are also being devastated by the disease.
One of them is Herbert Summers who lives in Hollidaysburg with his 83-year old wife Gwen. Her Alzheimer's symptoms started about ten years ago, but in the past few,they've become much worse.
Herbert's never quite sure what to expect--Gwen's mood can change quickly to aggression.
He says,"trust me, they have all kids of strength and if you're not careful they can hurt you. When he's asked, "does it ever scare you?" He replies sadly, "yes."
Gwen can be treated for her heart problems, but not her Alzheimer's. The usual medicatons just made her worse. So what's it like for Herbert, caring for her 24 hours a day. "You want an honest answer? It's pure hell," he says.
He tries his best to calm her, keeping the Christmas tree up all year long becauses that's the way she likes it, and setting up her angel collection on the piano. Another constant she depends on---car rides.
"I have to take her everyday somewhere, the same road, every time she's never been there before." Years ago Gwen and Herbert enjoyed trips to New England, she liked to hold parties, and was quite a gardener.
She says, "I'd do a small garden of things we particularly liked that were not available any other way." Gwen remembers the garden, but now most of the time, she doesn't remember who Herbert is.
He says it's more than frustrating, but "you just have to talk to yourself and say hey, 'this is my soulmate I've had her for 65 years I can't abandon her now' So you take care of her."
Herbert does get help for Gwen from Home Instead Senior Care aides, although for him caregiving is really a 24 to 7 job. He's going public with the struggle to raise awareness of Alzheimer's disease. He's hoping to get more people get involved in the Walk to End Alzheimer's disease in Hollidaysburg on October 5.
For others in a situation similar to Herbert's there's also a Family Education Workshop on Techniques to Handle Challenging Behaviors on Thursday September 19 at Home Instead Senior Care, 1923 Plank Road Duncansville. To register, call 814-693-2911.