In-home help available for Alzheimer's patients

Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Wallace Chambers has cared for wife Ava since her diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease in the late 1990s. The couple counts on the support provided by the Caregiver Relief Program of Bedford County. (T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons)

It wasn't until Ava Chambers began getting lost on her way home from work that her husband Wallace began to worry.

The drive began to confuse Ava, who was a nurse at the Veterans Administration hospital in Murfreesboro. She retired in 1997, by then diagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Wallace, 76, has been her primary caregiver for the last 14 years as the disease has progressed. Also retired from the VA and a farmer, he's cared for his wife of almost 37 years mostly on his own.

The challenges faced by caregivers of Alzheimer's patients are many. Day centers for adults can be expensive, or a facility may have an approach which seems too clinical, or may be out of line with the approach a family has chosen.

Good, trustworthy help is hard to find. This month, the Chambers welcomed the fifth respite worker in as many months.

After all these years, after having Ava, 81, be on as many as 18 medications at once -- and at one point nearly comatose -- Wallace has settled on a path of treatment which works for them both.

Still, it's easy to become overloaded, overwhelmed.

"I came to a time where I realized there's a limit to what I can do," said Wallace as he and Ava sat in the sun room he built for her.

The Chambers family receives services from the Caregiver Relief Program of Bedford County (CGRPBC). Incorporated in 1993, the program has developed into a home-based medical care giving ministry. A non-profit charitable organization, it exists to assist the caregivers of persons with Alzheimer's.

Joyce Adams, RN, has been the program's director -- and only employee -- for about five years now. She visits the Chambers household about twice a month.

When she visits, she quietly assesses the participant and the caregiver. She checks basic vital statistics, listens to the family's needs. She can offer referrals and arrange for free respite visits for the caregiver.

More importantly, in time she becomes a friend to the family. When Ava fell and broke both wrists, Wallace called Adams before he called the family doctor.

"Our program is also unique in that we are the only program in Tennessee that provides free nursing visits in the home," said Adams. "There are approximately 800 people in Bedford County identified with dementia.

"Statistics show that with the assistance of a program like the CGRPBC persons with dementia are able to remain in their home about one year longer than without support," she said.

Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those with Alzheimer's live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.

If you or a loved one have questions or require assistance, or for more information, visit www.caregiverreliefbedfordco.org/home or call (931) 685-9039.