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Living Through Windows…

Alzheimer's Disease

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Living Through Windows… Alzheimer’s Disease

Story by Mike Bockoven, Photos by Scott Kingsley

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An Introduction…

Head First into Deep Water

We have a habit of jumping before really looking. Into the deep end. Head first.

Last August during the vets home Olympic bash, Scott approached Nancy Klimek, activities director for the Grand Island Veterans Home, about the idea for this story.

It was a story he’d been kicking around, stemming from a conversation that Holocaust victims with Alzheimer’s were regressing back to those horrendous experiences.

Nancy was interested in the idea of the long-term project and let Wilma Luther, activities director for Third Phillips, and Deb Watson, supervisor on the ward, in on it. We met, talked, discussed and figured out a way to accomplish what we all wanted: an educational piece on Alzheimer’s disease focusing on people and families, a window into who the members are and who they were before the disease robbed them of their memories and personalities.

And so, last October, we jumped.

While we had read about neurofibrillary tangles and plaques, we hadn’t ever met anyone with Alzheimer’s. School was in session. Our initial anxiety was soon quelled with our first visit. Third Phillips is just like any other ward at the vets home in appearance. There are the same hallways, the same rooms and the same nurse’s station. It’s the details that set it apart. The doors are secured, and many of the things that we take for granted are brought to the ward. Instead of going outside to explore new-fallen snow, Wilma brought in trays of it for the members to make snowmen and snowballs for a playful fight on the floor. Instead of a trip to the barber and beauty salon, a local barber makes a special trip once a month to the ward for the necessary trims.

The all-too-common misconceptions of Alzheimer’s patients as frightening and violent people were shattered and replaced with sadness for humanity lost and awe of what was still intact. We saw members not as subjects, not as patients and not even shells of their former selves. Spending time on the ward, delving into that microcosm, we found out who the members are; Third Phillips residents still show their personality and past in spite of the disease.

Benny, a former car salesman, talks to no one in particular about cars. Middie, unable to form words, looks deeply into your eyes for understanding, grabs your hand and talks to you. She makes everyone feel welcome and needed. And Roger the Dodger always has a smile and a friendly finger point and can still make nurses smile with his flirtatious ways.

Even more, we learned the internal strength it takes for a family to cope with this cruel disease and the love caregivers have for those they serve. We saw wives come every night to dine with their husbands, knowing their husbands would not remember the time the next day. We saw thousands of examples of enduring and abiding love.

We dove, head first, and were met with acceptance and trust that we hope we’ve proved worthy of. We need to thank Wilma Luther, Deb Watson and Nancy Klimek for going to the wall for us, our friends and family who gave us support as we struggled and, most importantly, the families who opened some difficult chapters of their lives. It’s hard to put into words what it has meant, and we hope it was worth it. Your stories are something we will never forget.

— Mike Bockoven and Scott Kingsley